Women breaking the glass ceiling in accounting
One of the more noticeable features in the accounting sector in recent years is the growing number of women. Not only are there more women overall, but the number of females in senior roles is also growing.
The sector has always been male dominated due to its perceived nature of being a number crunching profession with lots of computing and little emotion. That is not the case so much today, however, as the number of women entering the trade rises and the number of roles in accounting grows providing a wider range of options.
The profession has made big moves towards gender equality in recent years. Statistics from the seven main professional bodies within UK accountancy (ACA, ACCA, CAI, CIPFA,CIMA, ICAEW, ICAS), show that the number of female students enrolled across these organisations has increased sharply ove rthe past 20 years. As of 2017, almost half of students at the seven combined bodies were female.
According to a report by Catalyst Research, the proportion of women studying accounting worldwide is close to parity.
The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said in a survey that the percentage of female members worldwide has increased to 37% in 2020 from 35% in 2016. The percentage of female students(50%) is greater than the overall percentage of female members (37%).
The main issues preventing women from entering and advancing in the profession are childcare and maternity leave. Women want to progress, but many are not willing to compromise regarding their families. If and when they do return to the profession after what, in some cases, is a number of years, they are often forced to return to their former positions while male former colleagues are far ahead in their careers. Meanwhile, many other women return to work sooner than they would wish, saying that financially they cannot afford not to do so.
In an article in Accountancy Age, a group of seven women talk about precisely these issues. They mention inflexible childcare options, their guilt at not being home enough for their children, the need to take calls at home in the evening, especially from clients abroad, the desire to show children that working hard, progressing and earning your own salary are important.
They also mention the feeling of guilt when, as a member of a small team, they take maternity leave and the need for paternity leave to be encouraged. There is a disruption to the team, and a great deal of juggling is needed within companies to ensure that everything is covered.
Regarding working from home, an interesting point is made that accountancy, like other professions, requires that staff are in the office. Younger team members learn from sitting next to more senior staff who know more than them. That is something that can’t happen when interaction is largely via video-conferencing.
Women accountants say that more female role models would help encourage them to both study the profession and make the effort to head for higher roles. Another discouraging element is the pay male-female pay gap.
Accountancy does provide advantages, however, with strong job security, flexibility, and the international recognition of the ACA qualifications, according to surveys carried out by national bodies cited above. In addition, with the increasing number of companies being opened by women, there is a strong desire for female accountants to provide accounting services.
Lucy Johnson, the owner of Isle Book-keep on the Isle of Wight, says the situation is changing for women working in the UK accounting trade, however there is still a way to go. Women in senior roles within businesses in general have increased, she says, adding that she would like to see that rise even more so that there is more of an even split.
Lucy Johnson says she is clear about the main challenges to women pursuing a career in accountancy, which are trying to break the stereotype of being a man in a suit and be able to still position yourself as an authoritative figure. She believes that not having flexibility within the workplace to make the job fit your lifestyle is a big flaw. Women should have the right to a more flexible working life if they need it to fit in with their family and to raise their children. This is beginning that beginning to be taken much more seriously now.
COVID-19 has had an effect on workstyles in accounting just as it has in other sectors. Lucy Johnson said she believes the accounting sector is taking this flexibility into account much more now in a post-pandemic world. The need for flexible schedules and options for working from home has become quite a normal thing.
Are companies now offering career paths to encourage women to stay and be promoted? Lucy Johnson believes so, saying that "many businesses, including accounting firms, now are taking a much more flexible approach to working hours and location. This helps support women in business with families and promotes much healthier and happier workforces. I think retention of staff is a really big thing and giving everyone a clear career path and offering the potential for promotions is a great way of making staff feel valued and keeping them within the business."
As for women breaking the glass ceiling in larger numbers, she said that is definitely happening, however there is still quite a way to go for women in accounting firms to break the glass ceiling in large numbers.
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