Traditionally seen as a male profession, the chiselled jaw of accounting has changed over the years, alongside society in general, to become more equal. But has the stereotype been killed for good or is the gender gap still too wide and off-putting for women in accountancy?
Looking at the bigger picture in terms of decades, it wasn’t hard to improve on almost zero women in the profession 50 years ago. Over the decades, various international governing bodies implemented programmes to promote high achieving talent regardless of sex, and as such there are now almost as many female accounting professionals worldwide as male. A 50/50 split doesn’t tell the whole story however, with high female accountant numbers in APAC making up for the West’s continuing male bias. And while women do have an increasing presence in the profession in the West, securing senior roles apparently remains a challenge. In the US for example, though women make up half of all accounting employees, only 21% are partners and only 11% of Fortune 500 CFOs are women.
A recent Financial Reporting Council report underlined the 50/50 male/female stat in terms of total sector members and students, but also showed that the percentage of female qualified members is only 36%, suggesting perhaps that more women quit the profession along the way than men. On a positive note, this number has inched up from 34% in the last five years and in the same way, while male accountants’ average salaries and bonuses are still higher than their female counterparts, the gender gap in pay did narrow by a further 3% in the last year. It still stands at 13.9% average discrepancy across all sectors in the UK – meaning in effect women work from November 10th until the New Year for free, according to a recent report by The Fawcett Society.
While some numbers show marginal improvements over the years, there is clearly more work to be done. Diversity in accountancy (as everywhere else) is not only the right thing to promote, but global consultancy firm McKinsey has shown that it makes sound business sense too. They found that companies with varying diversity and with the most diverse leadership enjoyed a 53% higher return on equity than companies with the least diverse leadership.
In the UK, the Women in Finance Charter of 2016 is pushing for equality by awarding bonuses to businesses who achieve gender diversity targets at senior management level. Dozens of firms in the sector have already signed up, including two of the Big Four. Legislation and attitudes like this are opening up opportunities for women in accounting all the time, making the path from Finance Director to board position to CEO all the more possible.
To illustrate this, in City AM’s 2016 Power 100 Women list, accountancy professionals featured heavily, including partners at all of the Big Four, as well as the CEO of a top 10 accountancy firm. Many of these successful women are quite rightly role models to those starting out in accountancy, as many of them also manage the family work/life balance conundrum too – often a more difficult task for mothers than fathers. Many female success stories are also mentors to other women in business, advising and guiding other women to the top.
So, despite the statistics, what’s stopping you? If you’re determined to forge your career in accounting please get in touch to hear about current opportunities.
JOIN US ON MARCH 9TH 2017, 6PM, FOR A DIVERSITY & INCLUSION UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TALK WITH GUEST SPEAKER HAYLEY BARNARD. MOOR PLACE, 1 FORE ST, LONDON EC2Y 9DT.