Helping women CAs move beyond the glass ceiling

The Times of India, June 5, 2014

Lubna Kably, TNN

MUMBAI: Way back in 1933, Shirin K. Engineer broke the glass ceiling by qualifying as the first woman chartered accountant in India. Yet, decades later this profession continues to be viewed as a male bastion. Of the 2.30 lakh chartered accountants (CAs) in India today, only 21% or around 49,000 are women. The silver lining - there are nearly 3 lakh female CA students - constituting nearly 36% of the CA student population.

'While women CAs are leaving their mark of excellence professionally, the immense potential that lies embedded is still vastly untapped and needs to be harnessed and strengthened," says K. Raghu, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). Thus, ICAI which is the statutory body regulating CA professionals, has recently set up a 'Women Members Empowerment Committee (WMEC).

At some stage, many women CAs are forced to put their career on the backseat as personal commitments occupy center-stage. As a solution, ICAI's WMEC has just launched a 'Flexi Working Portal' for its women members, to which the industry and CA firms will also have access. Besides helping match the flexi job requirements of women CAs with employer needs, the portal will also enable sharing of success stories and provide helpful information.

Even as this portal is less than a month old, more than 1000 women CAs have registered and currently 35 companies and CA firms are exploring hiring opportunities. ICAI will also introduce a Women Achiever's Award to acknowledge the accomplishments of women CAs.

"Overall the number of women CAs employed in the corporate sector in flexi-time roles is small and predominately restricted to the start-up segment. ICAI's initiative will provide women members a wider reach to the industry," says Anjana Vivek, a core member of the WMEC. Next in line, WMEC plans to provide specialised training and hone women CAs to be independent directors.

Large CA and consultancy firms employ a significant number of women CAs. PwC employs 706 women CAs constituting 30% of its total CA employees. Grant Thornton, employs 135 women CAs which is 27% of its total CA employees.While exact numbers were not shared, at both KPMG and Deloitte network of firms, the ratio of women CA employees stands at 30% and it is slightly lower at EY at 27%.

Flexi hours, work from home, extended maternity leave are de rigour in these organizations. In diversity conscious organizations, care is also taken to treat women employees as equals. "We have taken conscious efforts to provide a non-discriminatory and harassment-free work environment for our women staff," points out Pallavi Bakhru, People Leader at Grant Thornton.

Yet there is a vacuum at the top. Of the four firms that shared the ratio of their women partners, it varies between 5 to 12%. "The ratio of women employees tends to taper off at the top levels, as striking a work life balance becomes challenging," admits Shalini Pillai, People Leader at KPMG.

Leadership grooming programs and peer groups help women CAs sustain their career and climb up the professional ladder. At KPMG, its women's network, dubbed as 'KNOW' has been recently strengthened.

Women@GrantThornton, an intranet and email enabled platform enables women employees at this firm to network and share their experiences.

"We have created a program for mid -management level women to prepare them for leadership roles, supporting them through coaching and mentoring programs," says Rani Desai, People Leader at Deloitte. In addition to having a women's network across office locations, Pwc is part of the 'Reach Out' initiative which is a collaboration with other companies like American Express, PepsiCo India, Microsoft and Tata Sons. It is an eight month structured learning programme for senior high potential women and has 5-6 participants from each organisation to form a group of 31 women leaders. "This structured development program leverages resources and enables of sharing best practices across organisations," says Mark Driscoll, Human Capital Leader, PwC India.

As Sandeep Kohli, National HR director, at EY sums up: "Diversity, including gender diversity is important not only for us, but is a business imperative in a competitive and interconnected world."