International Women’s Day 8 March 2018 – we’ve come a long way

Mar 08, 2018
By Shauna Greely, President, Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

This International Women’s Day, Chartered Accountants Ireland is especially proud of its 11,000 female members working in every sector and in every corner of the world.  On behalf of all members, we’re also proud to be associated with this worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements, while taking the time to consider how we can represent and encourage opportunity for our female members.

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Institute President Shauna Greely with our first female President Margaret Downes

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s and is now recognised each year on 8th March. It’s perhaps given extra significance this year as people throughout Ireland and the UK mark 100 years since the Suffrage Movement when women first gained the right to vote. We also remember our own important figures such as Eileen Woodworth, the first female member of this Institute in 1925.

Chartered Accountants Ireland is fully committed to leading the way and increasing the pace of change. The Institute has recently established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, initially focusing on gender diversity, is tasked with meeting specific targets to represent women, develop talent and encourage opportunity.

Our membership base today is at a 60/40 male / female split and one-third of our governing Council is female.  Our student body is currently 51% female and our student Chairpersons, both in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, are female. We see that as a great indicator for the future.

In May last year, Shauna Greely became only the second female President of our Institute, following in the footsteps of Margaret Downes who took office in 1983. In the succeeding months and led by the President, the Institute has listened to and engaged with all members to understand the most important issues impacting on gender balance in our profession.  

On 26th January our inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Seminar considered the steps that can be taken by employers, government, Chartered Accountants Ireland and members themselves to create opportunities and equality for females.  The key discussion points included career progression and moving into leadership roles, barriers to progression, the gender pay gap, mentoring and sponsorship.  

We’ve also looked to celebrate our female members and provide existing and aspiring members with strong role models.  One such occasion was the recent Annual Dinner at which our President Shauna Greely presented Margaret Downes with a Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition for her contribution to the profession and our Institute. Margaret reminded us that she was the seventh female member admitted to our Institute.  We have come a long way. Our keynote speaker Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford drew attention to the importance of gender diversity.

The Institute supports initiatives such as The 30% Club, a collaborative business-led effort to make real change in Ireland, aiming towards 30% female representation in senior management by 2020. The Institute joined up as corporate members in January and has engaged with the organisation in the intervening period.

This year’s Annual Conference will take place from 10-11th May in Kilkenny, and we expect to have an excellent line-up of speakers of which 40% will be female.

As well as being a strong advocate for the positive influence which gender diversity can have in building a successful organisation, the Institute has developed its own events and initiatives to support female members in developing their careers.

Since 2013 we’ve been running bootcamps and one day workshops designed for ‘Returners’ - female Chartered Accountants who want to get back to work following a career break. They want to use their qualification, demonstrate their skills and add value.

Not only do these events cover the practical steps that women need to consider when returning to work after a break – areas like rebuilding networks and technology or regulation updates. They are also vital in terms of building women’s confidence and allowing them to meet and support others taking on the same challenge.

A Returners Workshop that took place in September 2017 was very well received and is scheduled again now in April 2018 in Dublin and a session planned in Cork in September 2018

In addition, the Institute gives access to one to one coaching and bespoke coaching support pre- and post-career break or period of maternity leave. We also offer job search support when returning to the workplace, CV advice and interview preparation support.

Membership gives access to a wide range of job opportunities (full and part-time) through our recruitment service, and all members can engage with a panel of mentors to offer support with key career decisions or other advice.

Of course, there is more to do, both in our particular organisations and in society as a whole, but we are committed to forging ahead. We will continue to seek to encourage, develop and celebrate the talent that’s out there and bring through female talent which can make our business sector more diverse, more resilient and more successful.