Ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8th March, as a firm we believe it is important to shed a light on certain issues. This is particularly so for gender equality within the workplace and in society. This year’s theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, embracing and celebrating women in technology. At Nordens, we’re proud to be a predominantly female company, from senior leadership and management positions down to junior levels.
In 2023, a visible gender gap in digital access immobilises women from accessing technology’s full potential. With representation and participation low within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), both within education and jobs, women’s roles in technology and the digital space are rightly shone a light on.
We spoke to two amazing women who make up the fabric of Nordens. They are our Director of Accounts and Cloud, Panayiota Viglas, as well as Cloud Division manager, Hollie Watson. We talked about the attitudes surrounding female empowerment in the accountancy and tech industries and how this can be improved….
Do you feel that technology has allowed you to gain female empowerment through leadership or progression within accountancy?
PV: I think on the whole probably. However, at Nordens there has never been a gap in terms of male bias over females felt. This is something that has long been considered since when I started, even in the past when many of the directors were male. We were all made to feel represented and respected. It’s a bit different now, with a 50/50 split of males and females as directors on the executive board. The attitude still remains the same though, with equality and respect a huge aspect of everything we do.
I agree, the accounting industry is commonly known as a bit male-centric and a bit dinosaur. You only need to look at the recent stat that 17% of partners at the major accountancy firms in the UK are females. That’s the furthest thing from the truth at Nordens and I’m very proud of that. This of course translates to the technology sector and tech as a whole. This has definitely allowed mine and Hollie’s department to grow exponentially over the past few years.
HW: I think maybe this ‘dinosaur’ stereotype of accountants is outdated. Yes, in terms of partners and directors’ level there is a disparity but a vast amount of senior management and leaders I’ve met and worked with are women. In my experiences at Nordens, my previous accountancy firm, as well as in education/training doing my accountancy qualifications, it was a very mixed bag and on the face of it the gender divide was very equal. When we go to conferences and events within the accountancy industry, again it seems to be 50/50. Since I started at Nordens, I’ve always had Panayiota to look up to and manage me. As well, the majority of senior managers at the company are female, which has been key to my development.
I think the progress of technology, and women in accountancy actually embracing it, has been huge. It’s almost normalised the conversation. Obviously more needs to be done at the top of the industry. But real change has been made for sure especially here at Nordens.
Has the technology sector historically excluded women and is this still prevalent?
HW: The tech sector, particularly the Silicon Valley mega companies, are notoriously known as very male centric. In the UK, only 23% of director roles within technology are fulfilled by women. Despite this sector still being relatively new, you’d definitely expect to see more females in senior leadership. This needs to be addressed. However, from my personal experiences the introduction of technology into accountancy has definitely enabled more women to strive and succeed.
Traditionally, when industries have started to increase their embracing of technology, it has almost deterred women from getting involved. In accountancy, it’s been the opposite effect and I just hope it’s a springboard for other industries to follow suit. The tech we’ve introduced to clients are things like EPOS systems, point of sale systems, and CRM systems. Through these platforms we’ve acted as almost the middle person between the client and the tech companies. This has allowed many women in accountancy and other sectors to grasp an extensive knowledge of tech which has in turn led to more accessibility and opportunities.
With the rise in social media and digital networking, women are given the opportunity to share ideas and collaborate on a larger and more regular scale. Is this needed more in male-dominated fields and industries such as accountancy and finance?
PV: Yes, I think is it needed in general as a whole in most sectors of course. There needs to be female role models in all aspects of life, whether that be in business, accountancy, technology. Social media and digital networking can be a very empowering tool to achieve this. At the end of the day if you see someone like you, a woman, achieve something it becomes more attainable. This is so crucial to girls growing up.
Being able to do this without prejudice and feeling confident in achieving success is what I think needs to be prioritised a bit more within the digital space. You don’t really get the online abuse or social media trolls within the accountancy and finance space. In many other high-profile industries, it’s particularly directed at females, which is really toxic and needs to be properly addressed.
HW: I think so, I mean the large majority of the people I follow in my social feeds are females. On LinkedIn for example, having women who are not only insightful but relatable, is massive particularly in our fields of accountancy, finance and business. Is it indicative of the wider movement? You don’t really know entirely because your feed is only who you follow. There’s definitely a huge number of women out there though doing incredible things and being celebrated.
Globally, only 35% of students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are women, whilst in the field of information and communication technology only 3% of students are female. How can this be improved in your opinion?
HW: I mean those statistics are alarmingly low which is of grave concern, however I do think it’s definitely improving. In the past these types of subjects at higher education level are going to be male dominated. Now though, I think they’re definitely becoming more mainstream. You also need to remember that many people working within those industries now may not have gone through the traditional route of going to university. We’re seeing young people bypass traditional education, by learning their craft themselves and progressing their own way. It all comes down to being more accessible, more mainstream and more relevant, which will see women participating more. The prejudice is slipping. Yes there’s going to be some industries and subjects quicker than others. Overall though, I think technology is moving within the right direction.
PV: Yes, I agree. The awareness is what it comes down to. With prominent female leaders being celebrated in all industries it no doubt increases women wanting to get involved. This just doesn’t relate to women, but also people of all backgrounds. The more people from those demographics are achieving success and being celebrated, the better it is for society.
Since the pandemic, remote working technologies (video conferencing, project management tools, cloud-based software etc.) has enabled more women to work from home or on a flexible schedule, making it easier for them to balance work and family responsibilities. Do you believe this has benefitted or hindered the opportunities of women achieving more and accessing senior leadership/management positions?
PV: I think it’s definitely benefitted women achieving more. You only need to look at someone like Sophia, who’s the Accounts Manager. Through the condensed hours system at Nordens, she’s able to work 3 days a week doing 5 days work basically. She can take care of her children, and still lead an incredible team without her work being compromised or standards lowered. This is testament to the power of a fluid, hybrid working system and not conforming to a rigid 9-5 in the office Monday to Friday system. She has a limited amount of hours. Through clear communication, targets set, and a supportive network around her, she’s able to achieve above and beyond. And this is all whilst being an amazing mother at home.
Yes it involves scheduling, maximising time and output, as well as solid organisation. There’s been so many instances however where people are able to achieve what they want in life. This ranges from some of our staff being able to travel the world and work remotely. Look at Hollie for example, who’s able to move back home to the Northeast and buy her own home.
We actually as a firm began to heavily invest and embrace cloud technology in 2016. As a firm we were so hot on automating time-consuming processes which in turn would allow us to become more productive and less demanded of. It allowed us to work remotely without going to a client’s office and trawling through their financial information, enabling us to become more streamlined as a company and more successful in our working methods. This was really the start of the whole hybrid working phenomenon which obviously expanded during the pandemic and afterwards to what it is today. I think the number of opportunities flexible working has brought forward has been beautiful to see, and long may this continue.
How else do you think that technology, particularly within accountancy, can promote more inclusion in terms of gender equality and also diversity?
HW: To re-emphasise what was said earlier in terms of networking and celebrating achievement being key. It inspires people to develop an understanding and a passion in that particular field. Within technology, yes more work needs to be done to level the playing field and to enable a workforce which reflects wider society as a whole. This is the predominant way for me it will naturally have a knock-on effect just because this is what I’ve experienced and led me to where I am today.
Having a mix of all different people you’re dealing with in business gives you a wider perspective which of course is a huge benefit in life and in business. More education and awareness around sensitive issues is needed across the board. Fortunately, at Nordens this is something which has been implemented successfully and insightfully. I hope this can reverberate throughout the accountancy industry, but I think overall it’s progressing and being more inclusive which makes me proud to be a part of.
We hope this has outlined to you some of the thoughts around female empowerment within technology and the digital space, ahead of International Women’s Day 2023. If you’d like to know any further information on anything mentioned, or anything accounting related for that matter, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at Nordens, where one of our trusted advisors would be happy talking you through your query.