Brigitte de Graaff currently works as the Coordinator for the English CMA Program at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and was elected to serve on IMA’s Global Board of Directors. As an LLM, MSc, CMA, and PhD candidate, she is an authority on the finance and accounting industry. We are proud to work with her as a contributing author to Gleim CMA Review and share her insights into the profession!
Brigitte teaches in the English CMA Program at the Vrije Universiteit, a program for people living and working in the Netherlands who do not speak Dutch. She also recently taught her first CMA class in Kosovo and will soon be starting a CMA crash course in Vienna. Brigitte is very optimistic about the future of women in finance.
It is great to see such a motivated and big community of people around Amsterdam focused on taking the extra step in their career and to have such a diverse population in class, because it really enriches the discussions we have in class.
When I was a student in my bachelor’s of economics and my master’s program in accounting and control, no more than 25% of the students were female. Looking at my current group of students for the CMA course, the distribution is almost 50-50. So the numbers [. . .] for women in the accounting and finance profession are changing. [. . .] Good times lie ahead of us, I am sure of it!
IMA is actively working to improve women’s representation and development in the industry. They frequently hold Women’s Accounting Leadership Series (WALS) events, which help women of all career levels network and develop job skills. It isn’t just IMA making strides; the industry at large is rapidly changing for the better.
The financial profession is, without doubt, a very interesting one. Especially nowadays, the profession is changing rapidly, with more and more developments in the field of analytics and technology, and also in the fields of sustainability and accountability. The expectations from society are changing and becoming more important for daily business. Being on top of these developments is crucial for organizations and one means to do so is by having an open-minded and diverse team.
In order to have this, women are essential. But then, women do need to seize these chances as well. Although more and more organizations realize that having diverse and mixed teams is essential for their business, it does not always come naturally. Women should therefore not wait until a good opportunity comes up, but take the lead in their own career. By certifying yourself, you show that you are the most qualified person in the room. By keeping up to date with developments in the work field, you show that you care about your profession and that you are able to adapt to changing circumstances. And of course, by developing throughout your career, you are setting a new standard for future generations, showing that anything is possible.
Brigitte has been an IMA member since 2014, when she first began studying for the CMA exam. Before becoming a member, she worked for two years as a student assistant for the in-person CMA course at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and served as Secretary for the Amsterdam IMA Chapter.
The most remarkable [thing] about IMA, in my opinion, is how welcoming the organization is to new members and volunteers. Not being a CMA candidate was never a problem when working for the chapter, and the staff has always been there for the local volunteers to help.
From the moment I got more engaged with IMA, I realized how special it is that such a large, global organization is still able to always maintain a very personal approach to all their volunteers and members. This is a unique quality which I like to pay forward as well. Besides this, it is always big-time fun to attend the IMA events, no matter whether it is the Annual Conference and Expo or a local chapter event anywhere around the world. The atmosphere is always good.
Joining IMA is the first step to becoming a CMA. But you don’t have to be a CMA or CMA candidate to enjoy the benefits of membership! Even if you’re just starting your career and unsure whether the CMA is right for you, IMA membership offers many advantages:
[Becoming a member] is not only useful for your career and network, but it also is a lot of fun. I’ve been volunteering for IMA for many years now and I have enjoyed every second of it. You can become a member anytime, there’s no need to be a CMA candidate already, and throughout time you can find your way in what you like to do. Volunteering provides great opportunities, but it is not required. You can also take a step back and enjoy the activities hosted by your local Chapter or Council, keep up to date with your field of work, and enjoy the networking sessions. Just don’t rob yourself of this opportunity by not joining a special, global community like this.
Brigitte has this advice for candidates thinking about joining IMA:
Consider attending some of your local Chapter events first, so you can get an idea of how the IMA community feels and operates. Interested financial professionals are always welcome, so if you’re in doubt, it’s best to experience [being a part of a local Chapter] first-hand.
And then of course, just join!
After beginning her involvement with IMA six years ago, Brigitte was elected to serve on IMA’s Global Board of Directors for a two-year term beginning July 1, 2020. This is a huge achievement, and Gleim is extremely happy for her! Brigitte had this to say:
I am really honored. For the past two years, I joined IMA’s Council and Global Components Roundtable. Together with this amazingly dedicated group of people, we shared experiences across the world of the different chapters and councils in order to help local chapters if necessary. This strong link with the local community is something I have appreciated from the first moment I started with IMA, and is therefore something I would like to continue to work on while serving on the Global Board.
I will be serving on the Volunteer Leadership Committee. This fits me perfectly, as I think that there are so many opportunities both within the profession and within IMA to develop your personal and professional skills through volunteering. I certainly did not realize this back in the days when I started to serve on the local chapter board. But looking back at the past decade, I realize that I wouldn’t have been where I am now without the opportunities and support that I’ve received from the whole community. Being able to share [opportunities and support] with others by serving on the Global Board is something I am really looking forward to. I think this is one of the most important benefits IMA has to offer for its members.
Brigitte recommends both women and men interested in furthering their career take the CMA exam. Our CMA Salary Guide goes over the financial benefits of becoming a CMA, but there are many additional benefits, such as signaling dedication to your career and showcasing your industry knowledge.
Pursuing your CMA is taking a leap, but a good one. It definitely will take up a lot of your rare free time while studying for the exams, but by starting early in advance and by using the right materials, it is something you definitely will be able to do! Every month you postpone is a month lost of being part of a helpful community, which will definitely bring you further in your career.
Women sometimes tend to doubt a lot about making such big decisions, but there is no reason to do so, as statistics show that women are performing great in educational programs. It also helps to start early with your CMA, as it can be a real career driver, especially when you are a young professional. I would therefore advise any woman considering taking the CMA exam to evaluate why she’s considering it, what she wants to achieve, and how [the] CMA could help with achieving these goals. Then I would certainly advise you to make a realistic plan for studying for the exams.
As a teacher and mentor for CMA candidates, Brigitte has helped many students achieve their goals. We asked her if she had any tips she wanted to share:
[A]s a CMA lecturer, I really recommend to my candidates to practice, practice, practice, and then practice even more to prepare for the exam. Simulate the exams using Gleim Test Prep and know what your exam strategy is going to be, because although four hours for an exam might sound as a very long time, the time is over before you know it (but hey, time flies when you’re having fun, right?). Only by practicing with actual, old exam questions and cases will you be able to know what to expect for the exam and be fully prepared for what is coming.