Is the profession of accountancy suitable for a woman? Could she be competent in the practice of it? Are means of training available? When trained, can she gain entrance to this "protected" profession? What are her prospects of employment?
These are a few of the questions which are asked by the woman attracted to bookkeeping and accountancy. Since women have obtained entry into so many professions formerly barred to them, the first question may seem superfluous; yet a little inquiry brings to light a survival of an antiquated idea that women are incapable of understanding and mastering figures, an idea perpetuated both by men whose wives have had no opportunity for adequate training in the keeping of accounts, and who in consequence shun any difficult piece of calculation, and by others who would hinder women from qualifying as accountants from fear of competition with them.
Yet is there, even in public accountancy, anything so difficult in the work that an able calculator and mathematician should be barred from the profession on the ground of sex? After all, the question is one of intellectual capacity and fitness of character. A good accountant, whether man or woman, must be quick and accurate at reckoning, possess method, a sure memory, grasp of details, intuition, patience, courage, a real liking for working, manipulating, and arranging of figures, unimpeachable honesty and reliability, besides technical knowledge of book-keeping and the work of accountancy. With the exception of the two last qualifications, the rest are to be found in many a girl in the highest form at school or college, who, when trained and qualified like her male confrere, is capable of becoming very proficient in her work.
One is apt to forget that only for about half a century has the middle-class girl had any chance of even a smattering of instruction in arithmetic. In the 'sixties of last century vulgar fractions were terrors and decimal fractions mysteries to the average girl, who rarely advanced beyond the "compound" rules. Considering this fact, the thoughtful observer sees, in the way girls and women are taking possession of ledgers to-day, ample evidence that want of training and lack of opportunity, not inherent incapacity, have been the common deterrents.
Quite recently a man who organises the classes at one of the Civil Service training colleges remarked to the writer, "Soon all book-keepers will be women." Frenchwomen have, of course, long proved their ability in this direction, but our country is slow in shaking off a prejudice or adopting a new idea, and it certainly is a new idea to entrust to women precious "books" of a business firm, auditing of accounts, production of a balance-sheet, etc., and to expect of them judgment on semi-legal points connected with accountancy.
One day, the fact that women were in 1912 still barred from admission to membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and to the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors will be regarded as surprising and short-sighted prejudice.
At present, however, a woman who qualifies as an accountant does so as an outsider from the two influential societies; though it is fortunate for her that, having trained and qualified, no one can debar her from practising, since any unqualified man or woman can do that in the present state of the law. There is as yet no register of qualified practitioners, nor legislative recognition of the profession. Both, as has been the case with medicine, law, and dentistry, are, however, bound to come in time, and by then it is probable women, having vindicated their suitability and proved their fitness for accountancy work, will not only expect but receive fair treatment.
So far, only one corporate body has admitted women on equal terms with men - viz., the London Association of Accountants, 21, Balfour House, Finsbury Pavement, E.c.; but it is an important and influential association, whose members are to be found all over the British Empire practising as members, associates, or fellows (A.L.A.A. or F.l.a.a.). Considering the generous treatment the association metes out to women accountants, it is desirable a capable and ambitious book-keeper should think carefully before she gives up the idea of qualifying for admission to it and remains only a book-keeper all her life.
Let us trace the steps a girl possessing the qualifications previously mentioned might be disposed to take - a girl with a well-balanced mind, strong physically, educated at a good secondary school, aged about seventeen, and holding the London Matriculation, or one of the Senior Local certificates. She might, after leaving school, set about preparation for the examination of the London Association of Accountants, to which it is desirable to devote some three years at one of the universities where a good commercial course obtains.
The mention of a university course need not be alarming on the score of expense, for at several universities good commercial courses suited to her requirements are available. The curriculum at the London School of Economics of London University, the courses at the Victoria University of Manchester, and at Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds Universities meet the requirements of the London Association of Accountants for examination and qualification as a "certified accountant." The first of these confers the degree B.sc. and D.sc. Economics, and the others the desirable, because more appropriate and distinctive degrees, B. and M. of Commerce.
If a woman decides on following a course at one of these provincial universities, she may either attend the day course for three years, or, supposing she has to work to support herself during the day, the evening course for five years. The fees would average about £60, without residence. At the London School of Economics (Clare Market, Kings-way, London, W.c.), a woman at work during the day also has the opportunity of attending an evening course, lasting three years and costing some 30 guineas, nonresident. Provided she has the power to work at practical accountancy during the day and study in the evening, and can also afford the fees, this plan is probably the most satisfactory she can follow.
But it is possible she has not sufficient time and money. Even then she would find less time and less money will enable her to secure at one of the universities named above the "higher commercial certificate," which will be of value to her in seeking entrance to commercial firms. Preparation would involve a two-years' course, and cost, according to the choice of university, from £10 to £20.
Some students attend the London County Council's evening commercial centres, where the fees are quite nominal, and lessons in book-keeping are given. A useful certificate to hold is that of the London Chamber of Commerce (Oxford Court, Cannon Street, E.c.). The Senior examination includes:
1. Obligatory Subjects. English, foreign (including Oriental) languages, and Esperanto (any two preferably including one other than French or German), mathematics, commercial history, and geography, elements of political economy.
2. Optional Subjects (two at least). Mathematics, methods and machinery of business, banking and currency, commercial and industrial law, book-keeping and accountancy, chemistry, photography, drawing, shorthand or stenography, typewriting, handwriting. Of the optional subjects the intending accountant or bookkeeper wishing to secure a "higher commercial education certificate" would prefer to select at least book-keeping and accountancy, banking and currency, and possibly commercial and industrial law.