Date posted: 09/03/2023

A call to arms for finance professionals this International Women’s Day

What progress have we made in gender equality, and how can we move further and faster? Here’s what a CA ANZ discussion panel had to say this International Women’s Day.

In brief

  • Communities and businesses have made improvements in gender equality since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated more than 100 years ago.
  • One critical way accountants can help is by empowering women through financial literacy, says Tesla chair Robyn Denholm FCA.
  • The focus now should be on action – and making concrete progress on equal access and opportunity for all.

Empowering women with financial information is key if they are going to have full, equal opportunities in business and in their communities. Consequently, Robyn Denholm FCA’s call to arms this International Women’s Day is financial literacy for women.

“I believe it’s incumbent on the financial community to make sure everyone – though women in particular – has the keys to drive their own economic and financial future,” the Tesla and Technology Council of Australia chair says.

Cracking the Code: In Conversation with Robyn Denholm, Ainslie van Onselen, Orla Collins and Traci Houpapa

Denholm shared her thoughts on how to achieve greater gender equality in a CA ANZ panel discussion with other female business leaders. Moderated by Gillian Bowen, public affairs manager for CA ANZ, the panel comprised Denholm; Ainslie van Onselen, CEO of CA ANZ and commissioner of Legal Aid, New South Wales; Traci Houpapa, a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, a chartered fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Directors and a director of CA ANZ; and Dublin-based Orla Collins FCCA, former president of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and deputy managing director of Aberdeen Investments Ireland, a global investment company and asset manager.

How far we’ve come

The first International Women's Day (IWD) was observed in 1911 – a time when most women were expected to become fulltime wives and mothers, and had limited opportunities for education. There has been tremendous progress in equality for women, reflects Orla Collins.

“I think the purpose of International Women's Day is to use the momentum for greater fairness, greater opportunities and greater respect for women at work,” she says. “We’ve made progress but there’s always more to do. For example, there are still sexist attitudes but, where once these were mainstream and common, they’re now much rarer and increasingly viewed as not acceptable. And, in most places, the moral argument about equality for women is over.”

There have also been significant improvements in areas such as paid parental leave and workplace flexibility. Ainslie van Onselen even makes a case for cautious optimism about the gender pay gap.

“For the past five years, CA ANZ has conducted an annual remuneration survey and the latest results show a slight improvement for both in Australia and New Zealand,” she says.

How far we have to go

While she was working with one of Australia's largest banks, van Onselen was very involved in diversity, inclusion and equality. She saw first-hand that that there’s no such thing as a silver bullet, and that opportunities for improving gender equality are what she describes as hard- and soft-wired.

Hard-wired measures are targets with teeth. For example, while women must build their career by working their way up through the ranks, setting targets for a 50% female presence on hiring panels, in graduate intake and for recruitment at all levels would create a fairer, more level playing field from the outset.

Soft-wired measures are harder to measure but are equally important. They might include specific leadership programs for women and unconscious-bias training for executives – particularly those who haven’t yet had their ‘aha’ moment.

A culture that values diversity

Collins agrees that special programs and quotas have a place – but they can ultimately be taken away.

“Cultural change is more permanent because it means building respect for fairness and equality into every aspect of an organisation’s activities,” she says.

She points to concrete evidence that diverse teams generate better business outcomes. “Diversity of thought is a business imperative because lack of diversity can damage a company’s reputation, and large investors are now building diversity measures and ESG issues into their decision-making.

“They simply won’t invest in a business that can’t show a long-term commitment to sustainability and diversity,” she says.

Diversity isn’t just about gender, but also class, race, disability, culture, nationality and geography.

“There are many unfair obstacles to opportunity, which exclude sections of society,” Collins says. “It falls on every new generation of women to consolidate the gains already made and continue to push back the frontiers.”

Measure, plan and act

Accountants and other finance professionals can play a vital role in promoting diversity and equality.

“I’ve heard colleagues say we’re just there for the numbers, but the numbers are an imperative in resetting strategies for our businesses and organisations,” Traci Houpapa says. “Having a sound and professional view from accountants is so important because, if our measurables change, so does our accounting and reporting.”

Houpapa believes the last thing women need is more research.

“We’ve been researched to death,” she says. “We know where the gaps are and what actions are required. Now it’s time to make the decisions and make actions deliverable in our reports.”

Watch the full discussion

You can access the full recording of CA ANZ’s International Women’s Day panel discussion here.

Watch now

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