ACCOUNTING has traditionally been a man's world, but there has been significant progress for women Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in the Philippines in recent years.
The 2018 CPA Tracker Survey of the Board of Accountancy (BOA) revealed that more than 64 percent of new CPA exam passers are female. Women are also well represented in entry-to-middle level accounting positions, particularly in public accounting firms where they see near parity with men, according to the survey.
Despite this, female representation declines as they go up the corporate ladder. So while more women are choosing to be accountants, not many of them end up in partnership positions or executive roles. So what's keeping women out of the top spots in large firms?
"Primarily it's because of the demands of the work, which may be creating this perception that it's difficult for women to take on this responsibility," said Maria Victoria Espano, chairperson and CEO of P&A Grant Thornton.
As the first woman to be at the helm of one of the top 5 auditing and professional services firms in the country, Españo knows a woman's struggle to blaze the trail. She joined P&A Grant Thornton as a tax manager more than 20 years ago at the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis when Philippine companies scrambled to restructure debts and clean up their books to survive.
While the demands of the role were huge, "I am blessed to have a very supportive husband and three patient and appreciative children," she said.
This is why she strengthened policies at P&A Grant Thornton to open more opportunities for women to advance to leadership roles. "Given that you have a large percentage of women, how do you grow them so they can go up the executive ladder?" Españo said.
P&A Grant Thornton's priority is to create and promote awareness on the importance of diversity. There is mounting evidence that more gender-balanced leadership teams lead to better business outcomes, including higher profitability. Women leaders at P&A Grant Thornton believe that diversity leads to balance, and balance makes for smart business.
Mai Sigue Bisar, audit and assurance partner and head of the Markets Group at P&A Grant Thornton, said women are also trapped in gender stereotypes that create a barrier for them to aspire for leadership roles, especially if they have to take care of their children and their families.
"We have a lot of women at the entry level. But rather than move up the ranks in public accounting, they choose to go into another sector," Bisnar said. "There are expectations from them, mostly coming from the household, that may at certain times make them take a step back in their career."
These factors may still create a bias towards choosing men as leaders, and women are not always top of mind.
To help employees, not just women, balance their responsibilities at home and at work, P&A Grant Thornton's policies include flexible work hours and work-at-home options.
"We try to veer away from being 'minute counters.' We focus on initiatives that will help our employees deliver and do their work anywhere," said lawyer Lea Roque, head of the P&A Grant Thornton's Tax Advisory & Compliance Division.
"Women should create that space where they can be able to nurture themselves," Españo said. "It's good for them to understand what the gender barriers are and really ask themselves: 'Is that really a barrier? Or is there something I can actually do to lift that barrier?'"
For the women of P&A Grant Thornton, keeping an open mind, being passionate about learning, and "making it work" -- whether in their family life or in their career -- are surefire ways to get to the top, gender aside. (PR)