International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality with the theme for 2022 being #BreakTheBias.

Half of The Mutual Bank’s Board of Directors are women. What better way to celebrate the achievements of women than by getting to know these three powerful local leaders behind The Mutual Bank’s corporate governance and strategic direction.

With more than 25 years of experience as an accountant, Deb Mirisch knows her numbers. She recently merged her own business Biz Synergy with Booksmart Accounting Solutions to form Beam Bookkeeping, now one of the largest bookkeeping firms in NSW with offices in Newcastle, Maitland, and Tamworth. Deb has an acute knowledge of the business landscape and has also served on the board of local not-for-profit, the Mai Wel Group.

Q: You’ve had a diverse and successful career; can you tell us about a few of your career achievements and highlights that you’re particularly proud of?

Growing up in a small country town, as part of a farming family, a strong work ethic and values system was instilled in me from a very young age.  I believe you get out of life what you put into it and have never shied away from hard work. 

I successfully secured an Accounting Traineeship with a Newcastle Accounting Firm upon completion of Year 12, advancing to a Management Role sooner than I expected. 

Becoming a mum to two little gems certainly challenged my thinking of what I wanted from my career at the time.  It was important to me to be present for the special moments in our children’s lives and this led me to pursue bookkeeping/management accounting for a handful of clients.  I didn’t intentionally set out to grow my client base, it occurred organically.  As the children became more independent, I started to place more focus on my career once again. 

By last year the team had grown to 10 operating from an office in Maitland. 

In Nov 2020, I was approached to merge with a similar sized business in Newcastle.  After much consideration, two strong Hunter Valley businesses joined to become became Beam Bookkeeping last July.  Now a team of 21 we are one of the largest such businesses in NSW with offices in Newcastle, Maitland and more recently Tamworth.

In 2017, prior to the merger, we won Australian Bookkeeping Partner of the Year with Accounting Software provider Xero, a huge accolade for a regional bookkeeping business, one that couldn’t have been achieved without the fabulous team that surrounded me. 

In recent years, the opportunity to sit on boards presented itself. It wasn’t a path I had considered but it’s certainly a challenging and satisfying addition.  My first board was a voluntary position on the board of local NDIS provider Mai Wel, from which I retired last year and two years ago of course, the Mutual.

I am also very proud of the efforts I put into giving back to our local community.

Q: Have you ever personally experienced or had to confront on behalf of others gender bias, discrimination or stereotyping in your work life?

Can I start by saying to be fair, gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping can occur to both genders, male and female.  It can also happen within each gender.  Its important we don’t lose sight of that. 

When I started my accounting traineeship, the profession did have a stigma of being somewhat of a boy’s club and it was a very rare occurrence for a female to reach partner level. Thankfully the tide has turned over the years and the profession now has a larger female representation, even at partner level.  On reflection there likely was some level or gender bias and stereotyping however I can honestly say nothing to any significant extent that it has imprinted in my memory or that recall feeling at the time. 

I feel blessed, having heard other women’s challenges over the years, that I have worked for employers who have respected me for who I am, what I do and how I do it, rather than focusing on my gender and treated me accordingly. 

I have come across some gender bias/stereotyping in networking situations over the years, however I try to not let that deter me and opt for the uncomfortable path of leaning into that moment whenever I am feeling brave enough to do so.  Once the ice is broken, the next time is far easier. 

It’s certainly not lost on me that far worse situations than I have experienced do happen to both women and men.  As a society, in general, I feel we have matured and evolved to a place where for the most part such treatment is viewed as unacceptable. 

Q: The theme for IWD 2022 is #BreakTheBias. We can’t all be pioneers in our field or have a media platform to reach millions, so how can everyday people – both men and women – break the bias?

Looking at it simply, by treating all people in the same manner you’d like to be treated.  Don’t shy away from celebrating other’s successes and while we can’t control the words and actions of others, we can control how we respond and our own behaviour.  Let’s all hold ourselves to a higher standard and set the right example to those around us.  As parents we are in the driver’s seat to teach our children the appropriate thoughts and behaviours.  It is said that behaviour is learned from those we spend the most time with, which means changes in each of our own behaviour’s will have a ripple affect across the population to #breakthebias.

Q: How have you seen attitudes towards women – both socially and in the workplace – change since you started your career?

Certainly, in the accounting profession, there has been significant shift in the right direction.  Becoming a mother and trying to hold down a career at the same time is not for the faint hearted. But it is possible, with the support of your employer, work colleagues and family.  Technology has been a significant aid in how and where we work, much to the benefit of working mums.

I do recall when our children were young, feeling guilty when dropping them off at school, seeing other mums volunteering in the canteen or helping with reading in the classroom.  But just as much, I felt the same when I left work before others at the end of a workday to make it home in time to collect the kids and get stuck into the nightly routine as mum.  It was like a constant tug-o-war of juggling keeping up with what I felt was expected of me in both roles by society.  Thankfully over the years being a working/career mum has become more the norm than the exception which has lessened any social or self- imposed stigma previously placed on it.

Q: If our challenge for IWD is to “imagine a gender equal world with a goal of living in a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination”, in what practical ways can we all try and ensure that our differences are not only valued but celebrated?

Being mindful to not jump to conclusions about people and their actions.  We aren’t always aware what others may be dealing with privately and should avoid falling into the trap of writing our own story about their journey.  Instead, support each other, listen and behave with compassion and care.  Raise each other up and celebrate other’s successes.   However, where behaviour does cross a socially acceptable line, we should be brave enough to call it out and encourage a better path forward.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self, or other young women, entering the workforce?

Be yourself and have confidence in your abilities. Early in my career I found myself conforming to what I believed others expected of me or of my career at the time.  That old chestnut of ‘fear and judgement’ sat firmly on my shoulder.  Although I was encouraged by those around me, at both work and at home, I didn’t believe I was capable.  When I hit 40, and our children where at an age where they were a little more independent, I found I had more headspace and time to focus on myself and my career.  I do recall a specific moment at lunch with myself, a glass of wine in hand, celebrating an achievement that took me by surprise.  I was enjoying some quiet time to reflect.  I made a pact with myself that day to start being authentically me.  To step out of my comfort zone, seizing opportunities that came my way irrespective of how daunting they were at the time.  What I found was that those spaces outside of my comfort zone weren’t as daunting as I’d imagined them, in fact I actually felt more comfortable in them than I expected, and often positive things transpired as an outcome.    

While ‘fear and judgement’ may still sneak up on me at times, I work at not giving it power.

I am grateful and lucky to be surrounded by people who continue to support, mentor or encourage me to remember what it took me so long to realise.