Dar es Salaam. Dr Neema Kiure is an assurance partner at Ernst & Young (EY) Tanzania.
She is one of the first females in Tanzania to make partner at the Big-4 audit firms in Tanzania.
She is a certified public accountant, a certified company director, and a certified trainer of corporate governance by the Commonwealth Association of Corporate Governance since 2002. She is also a certified information systems auditor by the Information System Audit and Control Association since 2006.
Despite EY’s conducive women’s empowerment policies, Neema earned her rise to the top.
“I have the qualifications, I have the experience, and I am results-driven. I went through the interviews, and I got the positions,” she explains in an interview.
She reveals that the family, since when she was growing up and now that she has her own children, has been a positive factor that has shaped her choice of occupation and career advancements throughout the years.
“As I was growing up through my professional journey, my parents supported me; my children were also very supportive, relieving me of a lot of stress and giving me the right attitude to cope with different people at the office,” she says.
According to Neema, her choice of accounting as a profession came naturally. Since she was quite young, the only job she wanted to do when she grew up was accounting. This was because her father was an accountant.
“From a very young age in primary school, I could talk about accounting, and as a result, when I moved to secondary school, I knew that I was going to do accounting. In Form Three, I was assigned to science classes, but I managed to move back to booking and commerce classes,” she narrates.
The family background in accounting partly explains how, in 1999, she managed to complete her certified public accountant (CPA) exams while in her third year of Advanced Diploma in Accountancy at the Institute of Accountancy in Arusha.
Pivot to auditing
The love of auditing, which forms the basis of her current profession, came later in life.
“I didn’t know about auditing when I was growing up. After I finished the advanced diploma in accountancy in Arusha, I joined PWC, where I saw the other leg of auditing, and I got so much interested in auditing in the sense that I knew then that I wanted to be an auditor,” she says.
Over the years, her passion for auditing has grown to the point that she feels a strong compulsion to share its compelling attributes with the younger generation through teaching.
She then grabbed opportunities for part-time teaching, not only of auditing but also accounting, at some local universities and colleges.
“I realized that to become an effective university teacher, I had to go back to school myself. So in 2015, I enrolled at the University of Dar es Salaam for a PhD in accounting. I graduated in 2020,” says Neema.
In addition to juggling between her conventional professional career and part-time teaching, Neema has found time to engage in efforts to organise and uplift women in accounting.
In 2015, she was among the founding members of the Tanzania Association of Women Accountants (TAWCA).
As chairperson and founding member of TAWCA, Neema helped solve many of the challenges that women accountants go through in their employment.
“If you look at the universities or even secondary schools, it’s about 50/50, then why, when it comes to CPA qualifications, are women only like 20 or 25 percent? We came to realise that women drop their ambitions of becoming certified public accountants or do not get the proper support and eventually fade out,” Neema notes.
“We can use TAWCA as an organ that can enable other women accountants to see that there are other women who have gone out there, achieved their dreams despite having family responsibilities,” adds Neema.
TAWCA leaders also travel to government secondary schools to talk about the importance of the subject of mathematics to young girls.
Neema says the reason for doing this is to remove the wrong belief that mathematics is only for boys.
“We are telling these young girls that we also did mathematics; we passed mathematics, and we are here; we were girls once; we are women now; we passed through that journey, and we succeed. The whole thing is to build their confidence as they grow up, to know what they want and appreciate what they want,” she clarifies.
According to Neema, within TAWCA, they have an ongoing project called “Bado Naweza,” which is carried out in Kigamboni District.
The aim of the project is to impart entrepreneurship training and give seed capital to young mothers so that they can start small businesses.
“When they graduate after a few months of training, we let them go and start their own business. We have done very well, we have a group of almost 300 young ladies who graduated and are now taking care of their own children,” explains Neema.
Empowerment is about equity
Despite her competence and qualifications, Neema does not trash women’s empowerment. But she says in gender issues, it’s more important to talk about equity than equality.
“Equality means treating them equally, but when it comes to equity, it means we have to take their different circumstances into account. If you want us to look outside the window, you have to consider that we are of different heights,” she notes.
If we are given chairs of the same height to stand on, the tall person could easily look outside, the short one will struggle, and the shorter one might fail completely to see what is going on outside, she adds. This is equality, she quips, but it is not equity.
“So, there are the people who come from the university, but when you see how they struggle in interviews, you get a sense of which secondary schools they went to. Those from public schools don’t have much exposure. At Ernst & Young, we look at their background and determine the support they need to advance their career,” says Neema.
And at this point, ongoing training in workplaces is key, she says.
“A person who does not want to learn from others will not grow, because people are different when it comes to views and behaviours. And through training sessions, we are able to see what the viewpoints of other people in the profession are. They also enable you to look at yourself and assess yourself,” she says.
Women professionals should also work hard on their self-confidence.
She says that as a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a leader in an organisation, she has gone through that self-confidence journey, but pushing one another was what was needed the most.
“We should be able to push one another,” she explains.
For both male and female professionals, knowledge is an important part of what they do. “The very important thing that people need to have, without considering whether you’re a man or woman, is knowledge. Once you have the knowledge and confidence, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman or a man; people will listen to you.
If you talk about being in a male-dominated field and you don’t have the confidence, then probably you’re going to get stuck and have issues progressing, but if people can see that you’re a woman and you are delivering and you can even show them directions and solutions, they will not remember you as a woman; they will just see you as a work colleague,” she explains.