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“Go for it”: women’s future in chartered accountancy

Past and present perspectives on women in the profession.

Ann Rinsler, ACA, Financial Executive and one of the ICAEW Women in Finance founders talks about career development, diversity in 2020 and what comes next.

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Ann Rinsler, ACA, Financial Executive and one of the ICAEW Women in Finance founders, offers past and present perspectives on women in the profession, along with broad insights into career development, diversity in 2020 and what comes next. Interview and article by Polly Bull.

Having worked extensively on the 100 Years of Women in Chartered Accountancy campaign at ICAEW, I found that Ann Rinsler embodies not only how far we’ve come in the past few decades on gender equality, but also where we are going in the future.

Rinsler’s broad career of more than 30 years within finance, accountancy and business, her Women in Finance network and Business Committee involvement at ICAEW made for an inspiring discussion.

We covered a lot of ground, from Rinsler’s guiding philosophy for career and personal development to the importance of layers of diversity in organisations and what she hopes to see next for women at ICAEW and in their organisations.
 

Personal and career development

Rinsler’s passion for personal and career development is obvious. For her, confidence and commitment are paramount. She noted research suggesting that young women tend to have less confidence than their male counterparts in advancing their careers, so this should be an area of development early on.

“It’s about being confident enough to go out and plan what you want to do because nobody is going to do it for you. And that means taking responsibility for it yourself by continuing your development, staying up to date technically and digitally, and improving non-technical skills. It’s about putting yourself out there.

“Early on, I was a great believer that merit and hard work would shine out, but actually, you’ve got to help your merit shine out for itself.”

She also mentioned the importance of following your passions and not necessarily conforming to other people’s notions of progression. Sometimes the best career move can be tangential.

Rinsler’s career bears this out. She moved from practice to academia then onto a CFO role in a digital media company and then to BT, where she set up the BT Centre for Major Programme Management in partnership with the Saïd Business School, Oxford University.

As the roles became more senior, she realised the importance of stakeholder management expertise and team-building skills. She now has a portfolio of roles, including non-executive and voluntary. Rinsler thrives on and enjoys working with businesses holistically, both at the strategic level, but also at the detailed level where necessary.

“I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve done,” she commented, “but I’ve tended to move on from things that I didn’t find particularly rewarding.”

For her, passion and fulfilment are highly important: finding what you get pleasure from and aiming for that. 

 

Layers of diversity

A few decades ago, inequality for women in the field of accountancy was undeniable. When Rinsler qualified with KPMG, only 7% of her cohort were women. There were obstacles, particularly when it came to being taken seriously as an accountant.

“I was treated courteously, but initially not taken as seriously as the men. I had to shout that bit louder, prove that I could do it faster and better. In fact, once I had clients of my own, having qualified some time before, I got my certificate framed and put up on the wall so that people who came in expecting to see “ the accountant” would realise that I was it!”

Thankfully, times have moved on. The gender balance for people entering the profession today is 50:50 women and men. But there is still a long way to go, particularly when it comes to the gender pay gap and women’s representation on boards and at senior management level.

Some companies are now looking more broadly at diversity and considering what privilege means, particularly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement this year. Diversity and inclusion have become priorities for many top companies working hard to rectify imbalances.

Even though the business case has been made and evidenced firmly for diversity on boards and throughout organisations, we still find homogeneity at the top in many cases.

While discussing access to the profession and barriers to entry in the past, Rinsler described “layers of diversity” of which companies need to be far more aware, ensuring that they look at the whole organisation and not just the Board. Also, small and medium firms may perceive they lack the bandwidth to regard diversity as one of their top priorities.

 

What to expect next

When asked for one single piece of advice for young women starting out in their accountancy careers, Rinsler’s concise response was: “go for it”. Supporting that motto, she explained:

“It helps to have a mentor. It helps to use the facilities of the Institute and your organisation because often people don’t. They need to prioritise themselves and their progression as much as the immediate job in hand.” Again, career and personal development are key.

Moving outwards from ICAEW and looking forward to how we build back globally from the COVID-19 pandemic, Rinsler advised where change is needed:

“I feel very passionately that the UK, in general, does not value technical and personal development sufficiently. Employers are rarely willing to give it time and resource. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can compete globally by hoping that people will be able to do this in their spare time. You only need to look at the focus, time and funding that other nations are putting into their technical development across the board. I take that challenge very seriously.”

And when it comes to an accounting qualification as an element of development?

“It is a great qualification to have – justly well respected!  It is a quality stamp for training in structured and disciplined thought.  By acquiring a qualification which combines both an understanding of the conceptual elements of business with practical experience, you have an open door to many future pathways.”

These skills have been applied by women throughout the last 100 years in chartered accountancy. In the future, they will be more important than ever.

For personal development and networking opportunities to help women in finance reach their potential join the Women in Finance Community for free.

 

Find out more

Julia Root-Gutteridge, Fiona Wilkinson, Jane Berney and Christine Pattison will speakat ICAEW Virtually Live at the session Untold stories: 100 years of women in chartered accountancy. On 20 August at 10:15, they will talk about the life and achievements of Mary Harris Smith, ICAEW’s first female member, the ground-breaking women who followed in her footsteps as well as the ways ICAEW has marked the centenary, including a historic blue plaque. To attend ICAEW Virtually Live you need to register in advance – ICAEW members can register for free.

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