International Women’s Day 2023 — Interview with Heather McGhie

March 8, 2023

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #EmbraceEquity, encouraging all of us to reflect on the idea of a diverse, inclusive and gender equal world and how we can all take steps towards creating that world together. At DMCL, we’re celebrating IWD and the opportunity to show our appreciation for our staff, partners and clients who identify as women and to mark their achievements.

This year, we sat down with one of DMCL’s newest partners, Heather McGhie, to collect her thoughts on her experiences as a woman in accounting, the evolving role of women as leaders in the workplace and how we can all support and amplify the voices of women in our day-to-day lives:

In your own words, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?

To me, today is an opportunity for us to have discussions about the realities that women actually face on a daily basis. Not just the disparity between genders for things like pay and career opportunities, but also things like the types and levels of work that women are often expected to do. I think during COVID especially it was pretty apparent that women are still expected to take on tasks like childrearing and housekeeping at the sacrifice of their careers, even if they’re in the same situation as their male counterparts. These are the kinds of issues that need to be discussed.

What would you say are the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in accounting?

It’s hard to point to specific examples because it can really be an everyday thing. The presence of microaggressions is quite apparent, which you unfortunately get used to as a woman, and the “old boys’ club” mentality is a big barrier to overcome in the business world, especially if you work in an industry with a high proportion of male colleagues and clients.

What ways have you learned to overcome those barriers and biases?

I’ve found the best way to get past these biases is learning how to read people and figuring out the right method to respond to their behaviour. Some people just need to be checked on things they say or do and will react positively to being challenged; however, others certainly won’t react that way and you’ll need to try another approach to working with them. Another important resource is the support of male allies who are in your corner; they play a critical role in promoting a respectful and equitable workplace.

How have you seen the role of women in accounting change over your career?

It’s been really great to see more women coming into more senior and executive roles, like CEO, CFO, Partner, etc. Especially in accounting, which is a field that has always been thought of as not a “girl’s profession”. Unfortunately, this progress doesn’t come easily or without issues—there’s definitely some pushback from traditionalists who’ve been fighting against it, which is sad to see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile progress.

What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their careers in accounting?

I think my biggest piece of advice would be: don’t be afraid to use your voice. Remind yourself that your thoughts and opinions are valid, and don’t hold back when some people try to suppress them. There are times where you’ll be talked over during a meeting, or you even might be told that nobody wants to hear what you think. You shouldn’t ever accept that kind of treatment.

What kind of education and mentorship programs do you think would make a big impact in promoting the advancement of women in accounting?

I think the greatest tool for empowering and building confidence in anyone is to provide them with strong mentorship. Having more opportunities for women with experience to mentor other women is huge, whether that’s through formal programs or informal activities. Similar to the idea of how men will often invite other men to lunch or to the golf course where they build those relationships, women need the same opportunities to help them succeed.

What impact do you believe women in leadership positions can have on their organization?

I think there’s certain skills that come inherent with rising to a leadership position as a woman which can benefit an organization. Women often have a strong sense of compassion and can help build a more emotionally-safe culture in their workplace, which is a big factor in attracting and retaining a diverse roster of employees. On top of that, there have been studies that show that having women in those decision-making roles actually benefits a company’s bottom line too, so it really helps achieve your end goal as well.

In your experience and your work with clients, what are some of the biggest challenges you see facing women-led businesses?

On the private side of things, there’s this sentiment out there that’s stuck around since the 50s or so that says when a woman runs a small business it’s just a “hobby business” or something to do when they’re not minding the kids or the house. This is obviously very outdated, but you’d be surprised how often I encounter it. I think women deserve to be taken more seriously and given more respect for the work they put into running and growing a small business.

In terms of larger women-led businesses and public companies, there’s that “old boys club” issue I mentioned earlier which is definitely a barrier to achieving diversity in a leadership group, especially in companies that have traditionally held few women in executive positions. I think companies that focus on promoting and elevating women to be decision-makers will find that the newfound diversity is a strength and not a weakness.

At DMCL, we’re proud to support women in business. Learn more about how Heather is helping women-owned and led businesses achieve their goals, and read our blog post on support for women entrepreneurs for more resources.