One Woman's Journey

September 5, 2017

Jane Jackman, a Director of Nexia New Zealand, shares her personal experience from Motherhood to gender diversity throughout her very successful career.

This is Jane’s journey ….

From the time I got my accountancy degree I was weighing up the age old question… “Should I have my family while I’m young or my career then my family?” I understand this may not be the case for all women, but it was forefront of my mind as I was married at 20 years old and knew I wanted a family. My husband and I discussed the topic at length and decided that we would start our family when I turned 24. By the time I turned 29, I had three young children under the age of four and I realised that 9 to 5 “job” was over!

One golden rule I adhered to when raising my busy young family was to “just keep my hand in”. Around this time, Christchurch had a really progressive CA firm that grew into Grant Thornton and they were piloting a system where they were helping young CA’s who were mothers to come in during the busy season and work a “twilight shift” once their husbands arrived home. This continued for two busy seasons and when it concluded the following year I worked in a variety of part-time and contract roles and I also took on a part-time “work-from-home” job auditing a small group of not-for-profit organisations and small businesses, which I managed to do at night once the children were put to bed and also during the day when the children were napping.

Through word of mouth, my audit practice grew and grew to the point that HFK, a well-respected Accounting Firm, approached me and offered me an Audit and Practice Manager role, receiving goodwill for my audit clients. Five and a half years later I was offered a Partnership. During this time I worked extremely hard and I must confess in those five and one half years I don’t really remember what my children looked like or what activities we did as a family! I felt that I had to work beyond hard, and I consistently work incredibly long hours reviewing files and meeting deadlines to reach the desired outcome for the client. In the end, it was worth it. I was incredibly fortunate to have the unwavering support of a senior partner within the firm who was continually “in my corner” and could see that I had a strong and consistent work ethic.

Did I have to work harder than my fellow male partners to get to the same spot in my career path?

I really can’t say for sure but I can say that I never felt discriminated against. That said, I certainly had to look out for myself to ensure it was known that I did have ambition and the drive to become an equity partner.

 Tips I would pass on:

  • You will need a very strong personal drive to succeed, discipline and a very strong work ethic. This also means having high levels of energy which comes from looking after yourself along with exercise, good sleep, a healthy diet and regular holidays to re-centre yourself.
  • Find yourself a mentor that you work with who wants to see you succeed and who quietly ensures that your efforts are seen and recognised and goes into bat for you. I truly believe that women who have achieved should help other women. Don’t make it a selfish quest but help encourage and support others to get there too by working around their personal circumstances and being flexible for them. Share experiences and communicate well any tips and pointers that can help them succeed too.
  • You must have unconditional and consistent family support and this includes the extended family. I would not have had the career I have without my husband, children and my parents, being flexible when I had to prioritise work over my personal life. This is particularly important for women with children/demanding personal lives who want to succeed in public practice.
  • From a firm perspective, it is important that we support staff with demanding personal lives by offering flexibility with regards to hours and in terms of where staff can work from. Audit management is such a busy, deadline-driven job and juggling a personal life in tandem is really hard work when combined with the audit demands. Women will find it very hard, if they choose to have an audit career combined with raising a child or children, to juggle managing audit jobs and also perhaps being expected to grow their client base with networking etc. Sometimes seen as an impossible task as there are just not enough hours in the day for all these demands on their time.
  • In saying that, you must work hard to develop excellent time management skills and be very well-organised to create a sense of self-control in a very busy role.
  • Back yourself – if you think you have passed the milestones, worked incredibly hard, achieved excellent results then stick up for yourself in your performance reviews. Try and encourage promotion to the next step as much as is earned. You will only get there on your merits and that is the bottom line.
  • As well as the personal and individual tips listed above it is essential that women who are heading towards partnership are supported by the whole partnership group in the firm and attain partnership on their merits regardless of gender. So it must involve a firm wide way of thinking that supports success, hard work, client excellence etc. regardless of the gender of the person and what demands they have on them.

Looking back at my own story over the last 30 years the view today certainly makes me feel that the effort has been worth it, although at times I have questioned the relentless demands our profession makes upon us all…regardless of our gender.

I believe the opportunities for women to achieve partnership level are now greater than they have ever been as it’s really up to an individual’s drive, dedication and perseverance and there is nothing really new in that statement.


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