One of our Pleo team asked me once what I would say to a young female student to convince them to join the accounting industry.
I think they thought asking me would be a challenge. That I’d be stumped, would struggle to come up with an answer.
They were wrong.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop talking. So, they asked me to start writing instead.
An industry hungry for change
I’ve been working with our accounting partners for a few years now, really digging into what motivates them. Attending events big and small to get the bigger picture.
Accounting isn't a bunch of men in suits any more.
It’s been fun! From what I can see, great times lie ahead for the industry. There’s an appetite for change.
A huge part of the excitement among the accountants driving that change is moving past those outdated perceptions of what accountants “look like”.
A bunch of men in suits? Not any more.
The state of finance
There’s good news and bad when you look at the research on gender diversity in the industry.
The foundation for positive change is there among the younger female accountants.
Research shows they’re more interested than men in the long term career prospects that finance offers – they’re in this for the long haul.
I don’t want to ignore the facts. Is the number of women in leadership roles still disappointing? Yes.
Add to that the fact that the number of female accountants has been growing over the past few years and you’ve got a positive start.
Has it been growing fast enough? No.
Is the number of women in leadership roles still pretty disappointing? Yes.
But the shift is happening.
The competitive advantage
So, what would I say to a female student considering a career in finance?
I’ve spoken at finance events where out of nine speakers, I’ve been the only female.
It’s still quite a traditional industry. When you bring something else – even if that’s just being female – you already have a bit of a cutting edge.
Sometimes that difference can feel like a barrier or a challenge. That’s totally natural.
I’ve spoken at finance events where I’ve been one of nine speakers. And yes, it was eight men in blue suits and me on the stage.
But I figured it gave me an advantage, a chance to have more impact with what I was saying.
(I did also open with: “Hey guys, I know this is going to be pretty groundbreaking - but there’s a woman on stage now.”)
So see if you can convert what seems like a barrier to a USP.
Remember too that accountancy is no longer just about numbers – it’s about the unique value each employee brings.
I’m just speaking from my own experience here, but I know a lot of women who are extremely detail-oriented and often brilliant at preparation.
In the world of finance, those skills alone will earn you a great reputation!
Keep an open mind
When I told the joke at that event where I was the only female speaker, everyone in the room laughed with me. They listened to what I had to say. They were on my side.
It was a great reminder to me that there are so many people out there that want to help young people, young women, fulfil their dreams in the industry.
I’m super-optimistic that this problem will be fixed – and I think that a positive approach is the only one to have.
Realise the opportunities that change offers women
I’m sure I wouldn’t need to tell that young female student that accountancy is changing in a lot of ways.
Technology means accountants are moving away from just managing numbers. Now the focus is on communicating what those numbers mean.
I think women have an advantage when it comes to breaking down complex data to something simpler.
Flexible working is also becoming more common.
Research shows a growing awareness of how much mothers returning to work can offer.
Smart companies have figured out that they need to do more to help unlock the potential of these women – and how flexible work can help do that.
Job titles and definitions are shifting on a daily basis too. That’s so exciting – and gives individuals a chance to bend the role to suit their own needs and skillsets.
More flexible working in accountancy is helping mothers return to work successfully.
All of these are great opportunities for candidates (male and female!) who want to play a part in transforming the industry.
Celebrate the role models
I don’t have far to look to find women in finance who are inspiring me.
Cheryl Sharp, whose company PinkPigFinancials puts family commitments front and centre.
Della Hudson, leading the way with thought-provoking blogs on topics like finding yourself on a panel that’s just men. Been there, done that!
Or in Denmark, Nina Esmann Lindgreen, whose entrepreneurial mindset always impresses me.
Let’s celebrate those female role models in finance who are achieving so much.
If that young student was hesitant about her ability to make it in a male-dominated industry, I’d tell her to find people like that and reach out to them.
She can always start her network with me.
Optimism about how the industry can grow and let more women shine doesn’t mean being blind to its problems.
We need more female leaders.
We need to do more to celebrate those role models.
We need workplaces that reflect the different demands on mothers.
But we also need more positivity about how we’re going to get there. The industry is not dying, it’s changing.
Women are going to be a vital part of that change – so let’s make it happen!