Date posted: 19/12/2017 4 min read

Tasmania's first female CA on smashing the glass ceiling

Ilma Lisson FCA looks back on her groundbreaking career as Tasmania’s first female CA and shares her advice for young CAs today.

In Brief

  • Lisson recently became a Fellow of Chartered Accountants ANZ.
  • Her CA career enabled her to be more independent.
  • She says concentration and sacrifice are key qualities to be a CA.

It was during the Second World War that Ilma Lisson FCA started her career, a journey that would span more than 50 years. 

(Pictured: Ilma Lisson FCA)

During those early days, Australia was in a state of upheaval. The nation was caught up in the second global war of the 20th century. Petrol rationing had begun; food rationing would soon follow. It was a period of great change and with men away fighting in the war, thousands of women entered the workforce for the first time. Lisson was among them.

Born in 1923 and while still a teenager, she was offered a role at Hobart-based accounting firm Wise, Lord & Ferguson. She accepted the job after the company offered to pay for some of her studies by correspondence through the Hemingway & Robertson Australasian Correspondence Schools, based in Melbourne.

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Now in her 90s, she can claim to have broken new ground as the first Tasmanian female to qualify as a CA, in 1949. Her hard work led her all the way to attaining the best marks in the state of Tasmania in 1949’s Chartered Accounting exams. Because she was a woman though, she did not receive the prize that was rightfully hers as top student: instead it was awarded to the man in second place. 

By the end of her first decade of work, Lisson had smashed through the glass ceiling and made history by qualifying as a CA. Her achievement paved the way for countless Tasmanian female accountants.

Lisson says while discrimination was part of the times, she never faced hostility on the job. She would go on to spend 20 years at Wise, Lord & Ferguson, focusing on taxation. 

Progressing and taking opportunities

Lisson had hopes of making it to partner level, but this progression was not to be. So when she was headhunted by Hobart-based legal firm Piggott, Wood & Baker in the early 1960s, she took the opportunity. 

It was here that Lisson would see out the rest of her career until retirement in 1987. While she continued her role as an accountant, she also took on the responsibilities of the general manager role. Kate Warner AC, who is the current Governor of Tasmania, also began her career at the firm.

Success also followed Lisson in her sporting endeavours. As a member of the Royal Hobart Golf Club for 65 years, she became a life member in 1987. She was responsible for secretarial management for the Business Ladies members for over 20 years and was Ladies Captain in 1991.

(Pictured: Ilma Lisson)

Essential qualities to be a CA

Essential qualities for young CAs are concentration and sacrifice, says Lisson, adding that she often missed out on socialising to study. “Being independent and not having to rely on others” were what she most enjoyed, she adds. If she could start over in today’s world, Lisson believes the times would suit her even better. 

But regardless of the era, Lisson’s advice to her young self and others remains the same: “Go for it!”

In December 2017 it was announced that Lisson is to be awarded a Fellowship of Chartered Accountants ANZ.