Breaking the accountancy glass ceiling

When I started out in Chartered Accountancy 25 years ago, it was rare to see high-ranking women in the profession. That’s no longer the case – but we’ve still got some way to go before we really break the accountancy glass ceiling.

Accountancy is not a man’s world

At ICAEW we think there’s a strong economic case for recognising and retaining the best talent, whether male or female, and from whatever background – because those are the people who will lead the profession to new heights, enabling it do what it does best, helping organisations succeed and grow sustainably. In fact, the kinds of interpersonal skills and communications skills that you need are often seen as typically ‘female’ (for all that I don’t believe in those kinds of labels).

So where are we at and how can we help women break through?

Today the gender pay gap is narrower for the under 30s, but it grows after that in the critical years when accountants reach partnership, senior management and board positions.

The fact is that more and more women are determined to make it to the top of the accountancy sector, and they are frustrated by the pay gap and by their prospects. Businesses need to recognise their talent and ambition and make the changes that will help working women succeed. And at the same time, women need to step up to make sure they are noticed.

What is the accountancy profession doing to support women?

At ICAEW, as a professional body we’ve been working with our members and with major employers to attract women into the profession, and then to make it easier for women to stay in the profession and reach the top.

We think we’re getting somewhere because today about 40 per cent of those coming onto the profession are women – but of course we’d like to see a 50:50 split.

So how have we improved things?

One thing is quite subtle, and it’s actually about recruiting the right people, whatever their gender and encouraging diversity in backgrounds by widening routes to the profession. In careers’ sessions for students and young people we talk about the ethical foundations of the profession, and why this is important in all sectors; and the ACA’s flexibility as a qualification, where you can work in business, in practice, or self-employed. This is a change of emphasis.

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