Being a woman in CA

Written by: Aamina Abbasi

In conversation with the partner of a firm in late 2017, I happened to ask an absurd question. “Sir, would you hire a girl or a guy for your firm?”

It was supposed to be an interview on leadership roles, and the question was remotely related. I recall his momentary pause before he bluntly answered, "I would rather hire a guy.”

Upon my silent nod, he continued, "If I am to tell a guy that we need to go out of station midnight, he will come right away. They do much more than girls and easily manage overtime." I preferred to leave the topic there because I couldn’t have convinced him anyway. 

I got over and done with when the conversation ended. I didn’t give it much thought until recently when I read a report on diversity and inclusion stating "Big 4s being top recruiters of females in the UK". The report claims that 61.3% of all accountants and auditors are females.

The report is an encouraging read for women pursuing the profession, but it didn't settle well with me. I recalled the interview and wondered, "What about Pakistan?" and "What about firms other than Big4s?"

Where do female chartered accountants stand in Pakistan?

Recently, CA women’s committee came up with an event “CA women’s celebrations 2019”.

Ms. Atifa Dar quotes in the introduction, "Today we encourage the women in the room to believe that they can have it all, given appropriate support." The last bit is to ponder upon. No doubt, a woman can have it all, but what is the meaning of appropriate support here? It is vague and inclusive, covering;

  • Changing the mentality of the women across the country
  • Changing the mindset of employers to give women a chance.
  • Family’s support
  • Choosing between family and work, where most women choose family.
  • Convince yourself to study
  • Let's talk about these, one by one.

    The countless movements and the constant feminism rants on media have made women believe the mantra that "Women can have it all," but Sinf-e-Naazuk wants special treatment along with having it all.

    We as women need to understand that special treatment and achieving big do not rhyme. These are poles apart and when one comes in, the other vanishes automatically.

    Almost all men who join the profession have clear goals along with a will to make a difference.

    On the other hand, the women join in with a vague vision. They don't even know what they want from it. "Woman is a homemaker and man is the breadwinner" is still embedded in the subconscious of many women, despite having rebellious beliefs. The belief emerges strongly when they face work-life difficulties. 

    Men work hard for everything they want to achieve. Things don't come easy to them. They deal with the hurdles, and they have their difficulties. If we want equality, we need to work equally hard too.

    The first and foremost requirement of this profession and I believe any other profession is being flexible. CA requires an extra element of being "rough and tough".

    Overtime, employer's demands, traveling during odd hours, coming across rude people, and much more. It is within the meaning of CA journey, and if you feel you are "Naazuk," don't even think of joining.

    Employers mentality regarding  gender diversity

    You must have heard the trainees and managers claim, “If you are not sitting late, you are not working." Big 4s are guilty of this charge too.

    I also recall the partner’s words, “Ladkon se ziada kaam lia ja sakta ha”.  This is the mentality that no event by ICAP can change. This is the state of mind that can take years to change.

    We tend to follow west out of fashion, so few years down the line, we might have more people with diverse mentality regarding inclusion trend.  

    For now, the employer will keep choosing males because they can manage overtime way better than females, and it's a fact.

    Our employers don’t hire extra help and trainees handle work of multiple individuals alone. To fill up this criterion, usually, a male candidate is the best fit for the task.

    Not only that, the profession is still very much male-dominated in Pakistan, where only 8% of members are females.

    We are not sure how many of that 92 % have the same opinion, like the one I came across. They are, after all, partners of those firms who hire.

    Family’s support:

    Let's be very honest here. Most of the students pursuing CA belong to the middle class, and the middle class has too many concerns and stereotypes which are almost impossible to fight.

  • As a beginner, you will need financial and moral support.
  • As a trainee, you would have to convince them about the nature of your work and timing.
  • Later make them realize that you can’t handle home and CA together in the beginning at least.
  • From leaving home to late sittings, even if you have family's permission, you will have to go through several questions daily. If not anything, you might end up losing your sanity at some point.

    If you fail, you are likely to be told that you should have chosen a more manageable course and graduated. Parent's concerns are genuine, but when we step out of our comfort zones, we have to broaden our boundaries too.

    Choosing between family and work

    A friend once told me that her father used to sit outside the firm if she was late during her articles, and they left together once she was done. Now she doesn’t do a job because they are financially stable and her family thinks, she simply doesn’t need it.

    That is the situation of one of the only 800 qualified women in Pakistan.  

    We are not there yet, where our people understand that women don’t need to work for money always. It could be a dream too, for which she worked equally hard.

    With a lack of help from family and overall culture, if women are to choose between home and profession, there is a high chance that they will choose home. The reason is not only family pressure, but most women believe they can’t manage it anyway, so they give in easily.

    Convince yourself to continue

    In the best-case scenario, where you have all the above support and resources, finally, you have to convince yourself to continue.

    A peer once told me, “She would drop out after articles because she is tired of studying.”. Is that even an excuse?  I have come across many other girls who have all the required support, but they simply don’t want to continue because of all the setbacks and hard work it requires.

    Who is to blame here? Not any employer and unquestionably no men in the world.

    Why don’t we women make a difference where it is required, instead of coming with pointless marches?

    Where are we right now?

    The committees are being formed, and the days are being celebrated. We are still unsure of the number of years it would take to normalize this concept, just like there is no such committee called "CA Men's committee."

    As we just started, it might take up two decades or more to change. But the process has been initiated, and we simply need to be a part of it. The steps should be taken by those who are more privileged, for the others to benefit.

    What should women do

    The purpose of discussing all the above points is not to discourage anyone who wants to pursue the profession. The objective is to shed some light on the issues you might have to face when you join in. Instead of regretting later, do consider these points and I am sure that you can handle these with a little effort and compromise. 

    With that, I request you to be that change that you want to bring. Don’t let the opportunity slip from your hands. If not for yourself, do it for other women across Pakistan.

    The profession is worthy of all the setbacks and efforts. If not anything, you will surely stand out qualification wise.

    If you start today, you can be;

  • That employer who is more diverse
  • That woman who made a difference
  • That family member who is supportive and;
  • That woman who inspires other women to achieve big.

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