To mark International Women’s Day and the remarkable achievements of women from across the world both past and present, we thought we’d shine a light on women in the accountancy sector. Historically, accountancy, and business in general, is seen as an old-fashioned industry with the majority of executive boards and senior roles consisting of solely men.
With the world becoming more progressive each day, admittedly the overall accountancy sector has some catching up to do. At Nordens, we’re extremely proud of the representation and diversity across our firm with over 70% of our executive board identifying as women, whilst overall 60% of the company workforce identifies as women.
We break down the facts and figures of women in accountancy and whether the tide is changing…
Traditionally A Woman’s Role
Conventionally, accountancy has never had a problem with attracting female talent at junior levels, yet the numbers do not transpire when it comes to senior level positions. This could of course be attributed in some form to the role of carer that women statistically take up over males. This is not just when it comes to raising children, but also looking after elderly parents who require assistance which inevitably impacts the work and home life balance.
A study conducted by the Government Equalities Office in partnership with the University of Bristol, found that fewer than 20% of all new mothers, and 29% of first-time mothers, return to full-time work in the first three years after maternity leave. This falls to 15% after five years. Additionally, 17% of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to 4% of men, whilst in the year before birth, males were the main earner in 54% of couples which increases to 69% three years after birth.
Another factor in this argument is also the role workplace culture in seeing women progress to senior level positions. A 2018 report conducted by PWC entitled ‘Time to talk: What has to change for women at work touched upon the culture within workplaces as a key factor to the progression of women to more senior roles. Many women in the survey cited the lack of identifiable role models within an organisation as a particular problem, especially women who were balancing childcare and a career. It seems that the stereotypical narrative of a successful woman in business is someone who has chosen a career over family, and someone who chooses to sacrifice their social life for their work. This is signified by 17% of women surveyed admitting they would put themselves up for promotion even if they didn’t think they met all the criteria specified, whilst 39% said they would put themselves forward if they met all of the job criteria. This lack of confidence in achieving career progression is likely to be affected by the age-old ideological definition of a woman’s role in society.
Breaking The Bias
Despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting women in the workforce, not least accountancy, needs to see huge improvements in line with the times and society, we are starting to see major changes come into force. This year’s theme for International Woman’s Day is ‘Break The Bias’. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can break the bias in our communities, workplaces, schools, colleges, and universities.
According to figures from the seven main professional bodies within accountancy (ACA, ACCA, CAI, CIPFA, CIMA, ICAEW, ICAS), over the past two decades the number of female students enrolled across all bodies has increased. By 2017, 49% of students at the seven combined bodies were female. As well as this, according to Eurostat, 57% of the total number of those employed in legal and accounting activities are women. However, among the UK’s largest accounting firms, which include the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PWC), women accounted for 42% of managers but only 17% of partners.
Slowly but surely, the profession of accounting is changing for the better with diversity and inclusion becoming more recognised and prioritised across the sector. More needs to be done though in the short term to eradicate the stereotypes and ideologies of women in employment and senior level positions. Arguably the role of an accountant has drastically changed from what it was 20 years ago, with a firm focus on technology and communication methods triumphing over technical skills. The future looks bright sooner rather than later, in that the majority of higher-level positions in accountancy would be shared equally among males and females.
At Nordens, we are not the ordinary and we are proud to say that we are ‘breaking the bias’.
We hope this has outlined to you the role of women in accountancy and what changes need to happen in order to continue improving. If you require any further information on any of the subjects mentioned, or anything accounting related for that matter, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us at Nordens where one of our trusted advisors would be happy talking you through your query.