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SAIPA Chair Prem Govender in conversation with…Virasha Moodley

International Women’s Month, celebrated annually in March, is an opportunity to reflect on the state of gender equality, particularly in the workplace, not just in South Africa but across the continent and the globe. With ‘Inspire Inclusion’ as this year’s aspirational theme, SAIPA Chairperson Prem Govender caught up with entrepreneur and SAIPA member Virasha Moodley to discuss the progress they have seen in the profession, the areas where there is still room for improvement, and their advice for women looking to give their careers an international edge.

Prem: The theme of this year’s International Women’s Month is ‘Inspire inclusion’. Could you describe how you’ve seen the profession become more inclusive during your career?

Virasha: Over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in the accounting profession towards inclusivity. There’s been a growing recognition of the value that diverse perspectives bring to the table. It’s particularly gratifying to see more women and mothers like me in the field. The advent of flexible work arrangements and supportive policies have made it more feasible for women to manage their professional responsibilities alongside their personal ones. However, there’s still progress to be made. As a woman and a mother, I’m committed to advocating for continued change and inclusivity in our profession.

Prem: I agree whole-heartedly! When I embarked on this career a little more than 4 decades ago, it was largely a white male dominated profession. Seeing a woman in this profession was not common, and one can imagine how much worse it was having to deal with not just being a different gender but also a different colour. Encouragingly though, the accountancy profession has largely transformed. We now see female accountants leading major organisations both at executive and non-executive level. It’s inspiring! You are right, though, that there is still a lot more to do to ensure more women take their place on the corporate stage.

Alongside inclusion, this year’s theme reminds us of the importance of forging women’s economic empowerment throughout the world. What do you believe is your role to support this goal, both in your personal and private life?

Virasha: I see my role as being an advocate for the economic empowerment of women. I strive to lead by example, demonstrating that women can excel in traditionally male-dominated fields such as accounting. I also seek to mentor and support other women, helping them to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed. I also believe that it’s important to use my influence to push for policies and practices that facilitate women’s participation in the economy, such as flexible work arrangements and equal pay.

Prem: Advocating for women is definitely crucial! In my view, economic empowerment starts with teaching women basic financial skills that will ensure that while they take care of the corporate purse, they are also taking care of their personal financial affairs and goals. As accountants we need to play a role in educating our female clients to take control of their own financial wellbeing. We may need to act as coaches and do some handholding while they navigate what can be a difficult terrain. Like you, I’ve seen first-hand the value of mentoring women to help them grow and bloom financially.

On the topic of mentorship, I’m sure you’d agree that recruiting, retaining and developing female talent is key to continuing to grow the presence of women in our profession. What is one more action you would add to that list and why?

Virasha: I would add promoting diversity and teamwork across genders. We need to come together to identify our strengths and build the industry. We need to challenge and change any unconscious biases that may exist within the profession through education and open discussions about gender stereotypes and biases.

Prem: Partnership is certainly key to upending persistent gender biases. On my end, I would love to see the introduction of more flexibility, to allow for enough time with family or children. Because of the lack of support and flexibility many women exit the profession and take time off to raise children, and often times when they return to the world of work, they are on the backfoot compared to those who didn’t need to do this. My question is: why can we not do both? With planning and support we can.

To go beyond basic inclusion, women are also advocating for the opportunity to be influential in previously male-dominated spaces. Rather than just a seat at the table, it’s time for women to be at the head of it. What do you think our profession needs to do to ensure that women are given the chance to occupy leadership and decision-making roles?

Virasha: Our profession needs to establish mentorship programs that specifically aim to develop women’s leadership skills and promote policies that ensure women are considered for senior roles. It’s also crucial to address any unconscious biases in the decision-making process, and to provide women with the opportunities and resources necessary to excel in these roles. The industry should not be viewed as a competitive battleground between the sexes but should instead be a collaborative environment where individuals of all genders can effectively utilise and combine their skills for shared success. If a woman is better suited for a senior position, then why not appoint her?

Prem: Exactly – why not! This is where professional bodies like SAIPA can play a supportive role, through training that includes leadership and corporate governance. We also need to see more women being appointed to serve on boards and committees. I am proud to say SAIPA is passionate about this and the fruits of our labour are starting to materialise.

To end off, what advice would you give to other women in accountancy looking to give their career an international edge?

Virasha: I’d recommend acquiring experience in international financial regulations and standards, such as the IFRS. Networking is also crucial; try to connect with professionals from different countries. Learning another language can also be beneficial. Lastly, stay updated on global financial trends and issues.

Prem: Remaining up to date with exactly what’s happening internationally is a great first step and is relatively easy to do by reading financial journals, articles and opinion pieces. Our world is changing rapidly and we need to keep abreast of these changes, especially since we live in a global village.

I would add that it is also important to understand what is taking place in our profession both in Africa and globally. The websites of bodies such as the Pan African Federation of Accountants and the International Federation of Accountants are useful resources to do this. Being an accountant is more than preparing financials, there is the opportunity to become trusted business advisors, and this is where having international knowledge will give us that competitive edge.