This autumn the ICAEW celebrate 100 years of women in chartered accountancy, with plans to publish a booklet of memoirs of the first 100 years of female Chartered Accountants.
Here Gibson Hewitt’s director Lynn Gibson shares her own story as a Chartered Accountant.
Name: Lynn Gibson
Year I qualified: 1978
Country(ies) worked in: UK Jersey Australia Malaysia Italy
- What first inspired you to become a Chartered Accountant? Were there any barriers to you pursuing this ambition?
I was inspired to become a Chartered Accountant as it opened so many doors allowing me to follow many career prospects. I did not know what I wanted to do when I “grew up” but I thought it created opportunities rather than restricting them.In 1974, when I arrived at work at Deloitte Haskins and Sells on my first day I was asked who I was. I said I was a Student Accountant. I was told that could not be the case as I was female and they did not take female students! Had I lied about being Commodore of the University Sailing Team? Winning my University colours? No I confirmed all that was true so they reluctantly took me on. Deloitte Haskins and Sells were the largest Chartered Accountants firm in the World at that time.A couple of days later my first day on audit was intimidating. I was told to meet my manager who would be holding a newspaper and bowler hat so that I could recognise him outside the office building. I was taken to an engineering concern. One of my first instructions was to go to see a client shop floor manager and ask him for 2 x ¾ inch greased nipples. Lunchtime consisted of the audit team and client personnel meeting in the pub for a laugh at my expense over this instruction. A time of Pirelli calendars, nudes and signs saying “save water bath with a friend”.Clients did not know what to think of me, generally being very chauvinistic. It was assumed I was there to make tea, fortunately not to photocopy as at that time that was a very involved process! The only other females on the audit team were comptometrists who all seemed to me to be very old – they determined the items sampled on the audit. As I gained seniority I learnt how to immediately step forward, introduce myself and my role to the client so they knew I was in charge of the audit on site.On qualification I wanted to work in Brazil and joined RCA Records as they had a record factory there. Although I joined RCA Records I was not allowed to work in Brazil as I was female. Instead I was sent to Australia to close the record factory in Sydney. On arrival I was told “in Australia nice women don’t speak unless they are spoken to”. I was singularly unimpressed and told them so as I went about the process of closing the factory. This was when there were no phones to ring for guidance or support, no emails and if I went for a meal in the hotel it was thought I was up to no good. I learnt how important my right knee was in self-defence.Fortunately my roles in Italy, Malaysia and the Channel Isles were not so problematic.In the 1980’s I returned to London and worked for Touche Ross in the insolvency department. There was definitely a glass ceiling. Although there were more women there were no female partners. During my time there, I worked on many National and International insolvencies and I was promoted to Senior Manager in 1983. In 1988 I left Touche Ross to set up Gibson Hewitt & Co in partnership with another colleague from Touche Ross insolvency.
- How did you see the experience of being a woman in the workplace change over the course of your career?
Now there are many more women in the top jobs in the profession. The presence of women is accepted as normal. No one needs to endure any sexual harassment. Women are much more equal. Maternity rights and leave are available to support women in their careers.What are the remaining barriers that must be overcome?Women must be seen to make it through meritocracy rather than any suggestion of positive discrimination. Equal pay for an equal job. Women must be able to hold ambitions and achieve them. The dilemma of whose career takes priority if each partner has a demanding and fulfilling career for example when children appear or with global mobility as it must not automatically be presumed the male’s career takes precedence.
- What’s your proudest career achievement to date?
Winning TRI Turnaround Firm of the Year 2018 and TRI Runner Up Turnaround Practitioner of the year 2017; Runner Up SME Business Woman of the Year 2018.Being asked live on Saturday afternoon television from Newmarket to explain to the horse racing viewers what a hivedown company is.Every time someone says to me “I wish I had come to see you earlier. Thank you, you have made such a difference to my business, life and relationship”.
- If you had the chance, what would you have done differently in your career?
Nothing different – perhaps be less obsequious to bosses, the partners.Not be dragged into the time spent / work late culture. Rely upon the quality of the job achieved.I enjoy helping people and businesses in financial difficulties and making a difference to the business, people’s lives and jobs and being a Chartered Accountant and a Licenced Insolvency Practitioner gives me the experience and tools to treat the cause, not just the symptoms.
- What one piece of advice would you give to women starting their careers in Chartered Accountancy now? What is the piece of advice do you wish you had received?
My advice is be yourself and have confidence in yourself. Be happy. Aim high. Do not take comments from colleagues and or clients personally. When you are dealing with their problem do not let it become your problem.Do not worry about wearing something different everyday – it is better to have something you look great in and feel confident in even if you only have 2 outfits you are alternating. Nobody notices which outfit you have on – only that you look great. Dress as you want to look in the position you aspire to.Do not pretend to be male.Have children when you want but accept you have taken time out if you have been on maternity leave. Women tend to be very concentrated when at work after having children – a good point to bear in mind when recruiting.If you find you are emotionally affected by a letter, email or comment write a response immediately but do not send it until you have slept on it and re read it in the morning carefully and make the appropriate adjustments.I wish someone had said to me, instead of working through the night to do some merger or acquisition have the confidence to say to clients the time you will be working until that night so that they understand the timescales that are being worked to. In my experience clients have always been relieved and grateful for this information and respect you when given sometime in advance. Clients have made their decisions on a timely basis ie it concentrates their minds. In my view it is impossible to make efficient and properly judged decisions if you are working into the early hours on a frequent basis yet the whole viability of a business can be determined in those early hours when the decision takers are least able to take good decisions.I dislike the macho culture.
- Please add here anything else that you think would be of interestI have no idea if I was paid less than my male counterparts and this remains an unanswered question especially now as I reach retirement – I cannot help but wonder how much more my male self might have earnt.Sexual harassment was almost “normal” with teasing and hands in inappropriate places.Women were not allowed to wear trousers to work.Meritocracy, not positive discrimination as it down grades the achievements of all women.If you marry and particularly, but not exclusively if you have children, debate and decide with your partner whose career will take precedence and for what time period. This is important in the age of global job mobility and child rearing if both partners have jobs of equal importance and intensity.
- General matters
Partners were called Sir at all times. They were even on a different floor to the rest of the workforce with a traffic light system of entry on their floor. No mixing with the “riff raff”.Writing reports was a time consuming task. The typing pool (all women) would type on machines with a seemingly half memory and they made typos. At the end of a long day often more typos were introduced than corrected. We cut and pasted reports to try to minimise typos and then run them through the “new-fangled” photocopiers. It was important to be nice to the typing pool otherwise your work had to wait behind other staff who were more amenable to the typing pool or certainly the typing pool manager.Dictating machines for letters being typed by the typing pool until late 1980s.The post room also held a significant influence over the business as everything was sent and received through the post.Firms of Chartered Accountants were not allowed to market their services. On one occasion I had my picture on the front page of The Daily Mail and I was anxious that I would get into trouble. I did! The same day I was interviewed on World at One – the partners were very unhappy.Client’s expectations of the speed in which their work is considered/ completed has gone up dramatically at each stage with the introduction of photocopiers, fax machines and emails. Not always conducive to allowing due time for thought and consideration. However on the plus side, the internet and connectivity has meant that knowledge is at your fingertips at all hours of the day and night wherever you are working.We often worked in smoked filled offices.We had to work in pencil to complete the huge schedules manipulating numbers – no Excel spreadsheets.