It’s International Women’s Month and so I’m reminded about this old joke in the audit profession that brings out the issue of gender stereotypes. It says, “If you want to know how women auditors or accountants perform, just look at their body shape: are they concerned about figures?”
I’m glad that I don’t hear this joke anymore, at least not in the Philippines where gender gap is less a concern compared to other countries. Recent findings from Grant Thornton International’s Women in Business report offer a sobering view of women in the corporate boardroom. One of four in senior management teams worldwide is a woman, putting the current global average at just around 25%. In the case of the Philippines, there are twice more Filipino women in top management positions than in most parts of the world, placing the country on top of our global survey of more than 4,500 executives in 35 countries. While this is good news, there are also research studies that say it could take another 75 to 80 years to reach gender parity in the workplace at the current pace of progress we are making.
The global audit profession is one concrete proof that gender diversity in the workplace is a good thing — not just for the sake of corporate box ticking, but because it makes business sense. True, the auditing profession is age-old and has been historically a man’s territory. But there’s a significant demographic shift happening that thrusts women into higher positions in audit.
According to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that help build workplaces for women, women comprised more than half of all accounting degree holders in 2016. It also says more than 60% of all accountants and auditors in the United States are women, with some of the largest firms being led by females.
In his speech at P&A Grant Thornton’s 30th anniversary last February 15, Grant Thornton International Global CEO Peter Bodin cited two things that make the corporate culture in the Philippine firm strong: its gender balance and the presence of millennials. “So much research and experience show that diverse and gender-balanced businesses deliver better results, are better able to handle the disruption that goes in every sector, and are more resilient,” he said in his speech.
Overcoming gender diversity challenges in an organization, however, could be a tougher glass ceiling to shatter because of the continuous stereotyping of women, and not just by men. Women, too, are sometimes guilty of believing in certain myths about their work attitudes and performance that prevent them from taking on senior leadership roles. Here are some of these myths that we need to debunk:
Myth No. 1: Women tend to overanalyze.
Before accepting responsibility, women tend to overthink, unlike men who jump right ahead before thinking. This casts both sexes in a bad light when people in senior management roles almost always have to make difficult calls while employing empathy and fair judgment in their decision making and thought processes.
Myth No. 2: Women don’t like recognition.
Women feel a tinge of guilt when accused of self-promotion, and instead prefer to work in the shadows until the spotlight shines on them. So while women pull all-nighters crafting extensive and time-consuming reports, they allow their male colleagues to make the actual presentations and earn recognition for it in the process.
Today, this is neither the case nor it should ever be the case for women gunning for senior leadership roles. You are building your brand, and what you do, how you work, and how you behave are all part of this brand building. Seeking a leadership role means analyzing and poring over what is expected, and then developing your self to be fit to lead.
Myth No. 3: Women need to sacrifice their family life if they were to pursue career ambitions.
Some women feel taking on additional or leadership roles at work may tip the scales of their personal and professional lives. When a female executive is offered job promotion, she is made to feel guilty about compromising her family or personal life and ends up passing up the opportunity. Fortunately, there are now women proving to be excellent role models in balancing work with personal responsibilities and more and more workplaces are promoting work-life balance.
Some countries even argue for lengthening paternity leaves, not shortening maternity leaves. Childcare is a shared role and there’s growing recognition that the father can also take care of the children and therefore balance the opportunities for himself and his wife in the workforce. A woman’s promotion to an executive role is therefore a family decision to make (not her personal burden).
The list of myths could go on: women ask tough questions, women don’t get along with men in the boardroom, and women aren’t inclined to lead or spearhead initiatives. The long and short of it is that driving gender diversity in the workplace begins by shattering stereotypes, and not just the glass ceiling.
Ma. Victoria C. Españo is the President of the Financial Executives’ Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) and the Chairperson and CEO of Punongbayan & Araullo Grant Thornton, one of the leading Audit, Tax Advisory and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines.
As published in BusinessWorld, dated 16 March 2018