Agnes Masoe: Accounting and the Pacific advantage

Agnes Masoe ... Pacific cultural heritage is a career advantage in accountancy. Image: AUT

OPINION: By Agnes Masoe

As Pacific people we have a bit of a head start when it comes to professional careers like accounting – thanks to the way many of us grow up.

As part of a Pacific community and family we learn from the word go how to hold ourselves, manage ourselves and uphold the honour of our family and village.

We tend to grow up in a hierarchical communities with clear rules and a defined role for everyone. We know how to play our part in the group and how to respect others and the role they play.

There is usually a time to lead and a time to be led, a time to speak and a time to listen – so, much is common with a professional working environment.

Like many Pacific people, the weekends of my childhood was full of Sunday school and church events. There was no question that we would take part in countless skits and performances for our community, as well as achieving well in our religious studies.

We practised and prepared hard for each of these, keen to represent our families to the best of our abilities.

Public speaking skills
In that setting, without realising it, we were cultivating strong public speaking skills and the confidence to present ideas to a group.

For me, and most Pacific people, this has always been just the way things are in our world. But my experiences as an accountant and now an accounting researcher and academic have led me to see this as more than our cultural heritage – it is a career advantage.

This new way of seeing the gifts of my upbringing first struck me when I was praised as a corporate accountant. My bosses liked the way I came to meetings so well prepared, listened carefully to the views of others and waited for the right opportunity to share my own insights.

The upbringing I had experienced was now benefiting me in my professional career, probably equally as much as all the learning I had done at university. I was being recognised and promoted for how I conducted myself, something that I credit entirely to my traditional Samoan upbringing.

As a Samoan woman about to complete my third degree in accounting, along the way my career choice has surprised more than a few people.

These surprised reactions have made me wonder why accounting is often not seen as a natural career choice for Pacific people, particularly in light of the useful professional attributes like poise, confidence and humility that our cultures tend to gift us.

Some people assume I went into accounting because I’m amazing at maths (I’m average), others ask why a Samoan woman has chosen accounting (I love it) and plenty of people wonder aloud why I’ve gone as far as doing a PhD.

Love of education
In my case, the love of accounting (and education in general) has been almost genetic. I am the product of a family that prizes education, and has its fair share of accountants.

Growing up in Samoa, our Sunday lunch conversations tended to revolve around accounting – my mother and her three accountant brothers often described the world in these terms, and the fact that my parents ran two family businesses meant business and accounting ideas surrounded me.

I found my own passion for accounting by helping out in my parents’ businesses as a teenager, learning all about invoices, receipts and supplier payments in a real-world context.

So why don’t more Pacific people tend to see accounting as a natural career choice?

Having mentored Pacific students in accounting since college, I have realised that getting started in accounting can be difficult if the field and its language is not familiar.

But it’s usually just a matter of learning the fundamentals and realising that accounting is another way of describing the world around us.

I was lucky to have my mother, an accountant, to mentor me. She used the reality of daily life and our own family businesses to teach me all about accounting and I have in turn adopted her “real life” approach to help other Pacific students achieve their goals in accounting.

Once a student, Pacific or not, realises that accounting is just another way of thinking, things tend to fall into place pretty easily.

Finding a mentor is a great way “in”, and I am proud to work at the AUT Business School where there is plenty of support and inspiration for all students, including those who are Pacific or Māori.

Accounting is an option for anyone who enjoys making sense of the world around them and if that person happens to also be Pacific I think they may just find they have an extra competitive advantage in accounting and other professional careers.

Agnes Masoe is a PhD candidate and lecturer in accounting at the Auckland University of Technology Business School. From Semester 1, 2016, students can complete a Bachelor of Business in Accounting at AUT’s South Campus.

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