Women chartered accountants from India and the US join hands to mentor each other

Ritu Jha–

With an objective to learn, network, and mentor women chartered accountants, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) and US-based ICAI chapters hosted the ICAI USA-EmPOWER Women’s Circle, the first of its kind women-focused events that was held online over Zoom on February 17.

ICAI USA EmPOWER Women’s Circle is a supportive community of women chartered accountants in the US and India aiming to drive change, break barriers, and empower women in the workplace and beyond. It was attended by chartered accountants Sudha Michel, Rashmi Iyer, Sheetal Holla, Srima Ranganathan, Miloni Dhruv, Deepa Kashyap, Madhu Ranganathan, Pragnya Mohan, Anamika Roy, Amrita Mitra and Sripriya Kumar. Also present were ICAI president Ranjeet Kumar, and vice president Charanjot Singh Nanda.

During the event, Madhu Ranganathan, Sripriya Kumar and Pragnya Mohan shared their life’s wisdom and the challenges they faced. Ranganathan urged on brand building, Kumar urged to network and gold medalist Mohan says setbacks are not permanent, you can bounce back.

Madhu Ranganathan, CFO of OpenText, a $6 billion company with 25,000 employees worldwide, asked women attendees to think of “who you are as a natural person. And from there, how do we curate smartly, consciously, strategically, and relevantly.”

A Chennai native, Ranganathan said she came to the US 30 years ago and joined the finance sector, when everybody was pursuing software, and still are. “I started my career as a brown-skin woman, a married mother, and all of it, and stressed hard work and intellectual ability to charter a course to carve out a niche in the industry.”

“I had intellectual smarts and worked hard. That is not a personal brand. So, what makes up a personal brand? Being a straight shooter, that also means honesty and integrity. Being passionate, but being calm and highly professional in all circumstances. Having a high sense of urgency, which means if there is an issue to be dealt with, no matter the person, or the level, finding a way to deal with it with a high sense of urgency to register a win for both. When you’re on the other side of a deal, when you’re in a negotiation, you’re being tenacious, and assertive. That’s the attitude you need, and it is a very important one.”

The last requirement for building a personal brand, she said is transparency. “Transparency is a broad word,” she said. “I would say that the cornerstone is not surprising — your constituents, your CEO, board, or VP. And this also means that you’re not afraid of conflict, or delivering bad news. On the personal side, you need to pay a little attention to your brand. You should be well put together most of the time in whatever profession you’re pursuing.”

About career progression, she said: “Technical competence is the top priority, not just for the broad finance and accounting world. Beyond passing the CA, and doing an MBA, old-fashioned hard work is a prerequisite. It means effective and efficient hard work. There’s no substitute for that. To be a great player and performer, as a finance executive, in the corporate world, or any other world, you have to work harder off-court.”

She said, “Quality matters. Networking is a must, but your quality matters. If you’re at a higher level in your career, the importance of building a strong team is non-negotiable because it’ll drag you down if you don’t.”

Another keynote speaker Sripriya Kumar, ICAI council member, said, “Men are very comfortable mixing friendship and work, but women are not. Getting on forums to discuss issues openly is a good idea to get input from others. It creates a very nice ecosystem of the seniors, the juniors, and the peers, all of whom draw comfort and inspiration from each other.”

She added, “It’s important to measure progress on three things to achieve from a women’s network — connections, capacity, and confidence. Every six months, ascertain whether your connections are growing with the help of the networking group. The next is capacity. Have I, as an individual, grown? Am I able to find something that develops me personally? And build a personal brand around your core personality. I might want a million things, but then I know I’m a certain personality type and I’d like to sort of stick to my core values of speaking straight, then I know what works and what doesn’t work for me,” Kumar said.

“The most important measurement factor is confidence. Everybody assumes that if you’re a CA, the flowers of confidence just bloom and happen so, and continue to stay with us. Not really. You find that your confidence levels are not as high as they ought to be. So the third most important parameter is has this women’s empowerment network made me a more confident person.”

She believes that despite the challenges, women should not give up their professional journey. “All of us have children, they would be down with flu at some time, you would not have household help or support, or your nanny would not be there. The long and short of it is that I think there is a huge difference between a man’s professional journey and a woman’s professional journey. There’s a constant state of deliberation and dilemma that you’re doing. As women, there is a far greater need to seek a sense of balance.”

Pragnya Mohan, another CA and a triathlete of repute, shared how she, along with an accountancy course, took up triathlon – a combination of swimming, cycling, running and became India’s national champion.

In 2019, the Ahmedabad, Gujarat professional became the first triathlete to represent India in the Triathlon World Cup and is the current South Asian triathlon champion and multiple times national champion. Mohan has won gold medals at the South Asian Games and the National Games. In 2015, she was decorated with the Eklavya Award (Senior), the highest state sports award.

She is also a Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, however admitted that it was not an easy ride.

“There were more failures than successes. My motto was simple — if we strive, there’s no disgrace even if we did not win the race. But, what should you do in that case? Try again,” Mohan said.

“A year after I took up CA, in 2013 I took up an Olympic distance triathlon — longest pool swim race in Olympics – 1500 meters, longest track distance in cycling – 40 km, and 10 km running. It took me a year to train for the sport and become the national champ. I had to balance my study and sports. Within four months, Nov 2013 to Feb 2014, I appeared for CA intermediate exam, cleared it with 62%, became a national triathlon champion, won 20 different races with combined prize money worth ₹4 lakh, and secured an articleship in a Big Four accounting firm. The lesson that I learned is that some setbacks are not permanent, you can bounce back,” she said.

But then Mohan had a realization that convinced her to take a step back. “I got my articleship in a good firm, with good money and good lifestyle. It may have been the best place to secure a CA career. I put in 10-12 hours of onsite work every day, and I slowed down on my sports. It took me a year to realize that this route is not for me, sports matters much more. I switched to a medium-sized firm with a lower workload. The lesson that I learned there is that sometimes what is best for everyone may not be good for me. You need to listen to what suits your needs and act accordingly,” she added.

She added, “My way to give back to society is to set up my own foundation and execute a project called Ek Beti, Ek Cycle. We are enabling girls from villages to get educated by providing them with cycles to enable them to travel to their schools every day. This project is in association with the International Olympic Committee, the organizers of the Olympic games.”

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