Putting diversity of thinking to work in accounting: Dr Bronwyn Rossingh FCPA

Dr Bronwyn Rossingh FCPA.

Dr Bronwyn Rossingh FCPA has enjoyed an adventure-filled career, free from the status quo.

By Carolin Lenehan 

From Karratha in the Pilbara to the Kimberley, from Darwin to East Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands, Dr Bronwyn Rossingh FCPA has applied her unique blend of IT and behavioural accounting skills across remote Indigenous communities for more than three decades.  

Rossingh’s career path has been by no means traditional, but it has served to strengthen her belief in the necessity of the CPA Australia designation, the social licence it provides among peers and employers, and the collegiate bonds forged from shared knowledge and achievement. 

Fortunately for the accounting profession, she chose to ignore the advice of the careers counsellors in Karratha as she neared the end of year 12. 

“You’re girls, you’d be better off being a receptionist for a mining company rather than a laboratory technician.” 

Instead, Rossingh went on to become the first in her family to get a university degree. IT was her passion, working in banking and accounting roles as computers and software solutions began to change the face of business.  

A life-changing opportunity through her employer (then Horwath & Horwath accountants) to take up a six-month work placement with affiliates in the United Kingdom exposed Rossingh to the variety, challenges and rewards of advising manufacturing businesses in cost-based accounting. 

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“Before that, I just thought accountants sat at desks playing with figures all day, but when I saw that there was so much more knowledge and understanding around the numbers and the drivers of costing, I never looked back.” 

She returned to Perth, taking on a senior accountant role with Touche Ross, then KPMG Peat Marwick, through which she began to work closely with remote Aboriginal communities, supporting the automation of their offices, installing accounting and business software, training and providing accounting and audit services for those businesses.  

Navigating her way through complexity is where Rossingh is most at home. She was financial manager for the Kununurra Waringarri Aboriginal Corporation when it was rare to have an accountant working in Aboriginal organisations. 

“Having an accountant added credibility for the organisation and helped to attract further funding and support. Prior to that, they had been manually juggling more than 30 buckets of funding with 20 or so different cash books to run businesses and services for the local communities.” 

It was here that Rossingh found an obvious disconnect between government expectations arising from Western concepts of bookkeeping and accountability, and the vision and needs of the local Aboriginal people.

“When you peel back the Western framework barriers and allow the input of different thinking, you are rewarded by helping passionate people bring their vision to life.”

Governments and regulators were missing the mark on achieving outcomes while their focus was on financial accountability and requiring unskilled government officers to interpret financial statements. 

A move to Darwin and work in academia and research followed between 2002 to 2016, during which Rossingh achieved first-class honours in management accounting, a Charles Darwin University Chancellor’s Medal and the NT Government medal for outstanding academic achievement. Rossingh earned her PhD with a thesis on the disjunction between the philosophical world views of Aboriginal communities and governments. 

This year, Rossingh became CFO for the Tiwi Island Training Employment Board. She sees herself as a translator, taking a community’s vision and working out how to adapt Western governance practices to complement, rather than take over, Indigenous values, systems and processes. The result: community-run businesses are given a real chance to thrive. 

“When you peel back the Western framework barriers and allow the input of different thinking, you are rewarded by helping passionate people bring their vision to life.” 

One piece of advice

“Keep an open mind about how you use accounting language. Keep it contextual for the organisation and environment that you are working in, particularly when engaging in remote Aboriginal communities.” 

Read next: How a finance team can improve community health

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November 2018
November 2018

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