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     Volume 5 Issue 78 | January 6, 2006|

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The Changing Face of Accounting

Nusrat Jahan

Accounting is not just about balance sheets and numbers. It's also about strategy, management and problem solving. The skills acquired are transferable. Once you get into accounting, the sky is the limit. Accounting is a well-respected profession with a lot of diverse opportunities available. It's not just about crunching numbers; accounting now requires social skills as well. There's a lot more interaction with clients these days which makes the profession more appealing to women. More women are joining the accounting profession because of the career possibilities that can spring from it, as well as its many rewards. Accounting was not always perceived as a profession for women; at one time men filled the classrooms almost exclusively. Today, the accounting playing field is far more gender sensitive. If one gets certain marks and passes CA exam, on that she would get an accounting job just as easily as a man would get it. There's no reason to doubt it. Women do get the same jobs men do.

What type of environment does the professional woman need?

This profession offers the necessary perks that allow women to balance a successful career with motherhood. According to a Canadian report, a mother misses an average seven working days a year to deal with family matters - such as taking the kids to the doctors or other events - while a father misses only one day for similar reasons.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Canada for instance offers alternative working arrangements, leadership development programmes, and have programmes geared towards working mothers. This allows for a shortened work week, flexitime, and the possibility of working at home for part of the week. According to the firm, while women - including partners in the firm - are taking advantage of these alternative arrangements, they're also quite popular with men.

Some firms in developed countries offer not only flexible working hours but other benefits such as 50 hours of non-chargeable time for a variety of personal reasons, parental leave, an adoption assistance programme and employee sabbaticals.

In Bangladesh, organisations especially industrial organisations used to be very concerned about married professional women because that meant they would have kids soon or they have kids, social obligations and they would lose (these new hires). So they did not want to invest in them. But as women move up in these organisations they're setting the policy. There are in fact many prominent women qualified Chartered Accountants who are contributing to the profession along with the men without interrupting their family affairs ignoring and social obligations.

When women enter this profession they won't be stuck in the accounting department all their life. Women are moving out of more traditional roles and moving into management. One cause of frustration for women, is that corporations often profess corporate values, such as valuing people to gain employee commitment but aren't genuinely practised.

If women professionals have a common issue, it's the desire to express their true selves at work. They dislike repressing the side of them that cares about relationship and others people's feelings. They don't want to leave their personalities at the corporate door or pretend to be someone else. They want to retain their identities and still be seen as real players. What does it mean to be authentic in a work environment? May be, for them, it means not having to change who they are when they come to work. They want to be able to establish emotional connections with co-workers and relate to staff, colleagues and superiors on a personal level. This doesn't mean knowing every detail of a co-worker's personal life. Instead, it means having a sense of who the person is and being able to connect as human beings.

On 19th June'05 I attended a meeting of the Committee for Professional Development for Women of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh. The committee members raised an issue regarding inclusion of female students in CA profession. We were astonished about the comments of some principals. One of the male principals proudly stated that as one of his female students had taken the 'hijab' he requested her to search for another firm. He also expressed that he was not interested in taking in female students because there is a tendency in them to get romantically involved with male students. Both of them pointed out that these as problems are solely associated with female students. To me, obviously these are personal problems. If this is the mentality of our male seniors on the entry point of a woman aspiring to be a professional, how can they proceed to the next stage? Male colleagues and superiors seem to be too concerned about how a woman dresses and who she talks to rather than her professional abilities.

Professional women still feel alienated from the brinkmanship and politics of testosterone-fueled corporate cultures. When women professionals share war stories, the rapport is instantaneous. They describe the same need to dissemble and think about which battles to fight, how they'll be perceived and whether they'll be seen as too soft.

Professional women are perplexed as the organisations stress the importance of values and interpersonal skills, but their actions seem to contradict this claim. Celebrating speed, numbers, and achievement runs counter to basic female values of nurturing and supporting. Women who seek more from their interactions aren't soft or indecisive. Indeed, they're accomplished, understand business realities and focus on results. But they see results differently from their employers.

The good news is that women are beginning to find an environment where they can be themselves and be appreciated for their values and relationship-based approach at the top of their career agenda. If an employer doesn't encourage this approach, they can always move on to other firms or start businesses where they feel good about who they are. Clearly, the challenge facing employers now is to retain talented women in coming years.

The writer is a Chartered Accountant

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