Business

International Women's Day 2018

by PAMELA MONROE-ELLIS

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

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On March 8, people around the world will be celebrating International Women's Day. The day commemorates the achievements of women worldwide and brings awareness to political, economic and social struggles of women with the goal that things will change for the better in the future.

Women around the world have made remarkable strides in a variety of industries. In accountancy in particular, the ACCA was the first professional accountancy body to admit a woman, Ethel Ayres Purdie, who joined in 1909. Purdie was a suffragist and used accountancy to fight for women's rights in the UK.

Over a century later, the ACCA is still leading the way amongst accountancy bodies when it comes to diversity at the top. But creating real change is not just about standing out by being the first to do something; it is about sustainable culture change, driven by the tone set at the top.

ACCA has only grown under the leadership of chief executive, Helen Brand OBE. This year, 58 per cent of its Council members are women, as is 55 per cent of ACCA's senior staff.

ACCA's leadership has a direct impact on the diversity of its membership; 46 per cent of members and 56 per cent of students are women, studying and working in more than 180 countries.

The finance industry is filled with ambitious and driven young people who have the potential to go on to do great things. It is important that as leaders in business we act as role models, and do all we can to ensure the path to the top is no less clear for some than others.

The movement towards gender parity is, unfortunately, far from unnecessary. Although it is 40 years since the phrase 'glass ceiling' was first coined to mean a barrier to career advancement, especially for women, women are still under-represented among CEOs, CFOs, and senior management in large listed companies.

Here in Jamaica, we have the rich legacy of women trailblazers who have cracked the proverbial glass ceiling in the public and private sectors. These women have provided sound leadership, contributed meaningfully to nation building, and inspired others to think and believe that the possibilities are limitless.

Gender equality and empowerment for women and girls is one of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Yet, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2017 estimates that gender parity will take more than 200 years to be realised worldwide.

Data from the same report also shows that women in leadership roles encourage the hiring of more women at all levels. Getting women into positions of leadership is the key to closing the gender gap across industry sectors, and in business and finance we can lead the way by providing a positive example in both our actions and our successes.

Progress towards equality does not only concern the responsibility we have to our shareholders to be diverse and representative; there is also a clear business case for advocating for more women in leadership.

In 2016, a comprehensive study of gender diversity across European firms by the IMF identified there to be “a positive association between corporate return on assets and the share of women in senior positions”. As finance professionals, this is something we cannot ignore.

The theme for International Women's Day this year is Press for Progress. In 2018, we can reflect on how far we have come in the last 100 years, but not for so long that we fool ourselves into thinking the work is over.

Pamela Monroe-Ellis, FCCA, is the Auditor General.

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