The current view of women in accountancy

Mar 10, 2023

Just one-fifth of senior roles in accountancy was occupied by women in 2021

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day,  Accountancy Age asked several women in the industry to analyse the current state of women in accountancy.

While there remains much to be done, it is clear there has been substantial progress in the last few years in creating an equal playing field in the industry.

Lack of visibility and mentorship persists

Tanveer Mahtab-Ahmed, associate partner at Haines Watts, recalls that when she was starting in the industry, there was no female role model in a senior position whom she could reach out to for mentoring.

For women to rise into more senior positions, Anne-Marie Balfe, EMEIA financial services talent leader at EY says coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship are very important”.

“Ensuring women, as well as men, are receiving advice and guidance from leaders, and that support is being given both directly and indirectly,” she adds.

As the first female managing partner at Haysmacintyre, Natasha Frangos says she understands “how the lack of a female role models with children at a senior level might be a deterrent to women who are earlier on in their careers.”

Frangos says Haysmacintyre conducts a mentorship programme where everyone has access to an advisor, and she believes schemes like this can be “career-changing” to women.

Frangos notes that firms need policies to support women’s progression in the firm “irrespective” of whether they are going on maternity leave or need flexible hours.

Mahtab-Ahmed praises the support she now receives from management as “remarkable.”

Progressing more women into senior positions

Statistics gathered by AA in 2021 highlighted that while at the time nearly half of all qualified accountants were female (45.47 percent), just one-fifth of senior roles was occupied by women.

Unfair parental leave policies are a key factor preventing women from progressing into senior roles and the pressure to take career breaks due to the struggle of balancing work and family life, according to Mahtab-Ahmed.

“A lot of firms are now offering keep in touch days during maternity leave so that women on maternity leave are not totally out of the loop for the full 9-12 months of leave.

“This helps women fit back into a working routine quickly when they return,” she adds.

Mahtab-Ahmed says while the journey to a senior leadership role may take longer for those who have been on maternity leave, it should never conclude the journey completely.

“I think a lot of women have a misperception about the demands of being a partner or senior leader and worry it may impact negatively on the family.

“I think the more discussion and visibility we give to women who make it work successfully, the more we will encourage others to pursue these roles,” Mahtab-Ahmed adds.

Workplace culture   

Balfe, who is also a board member at the City Women’s Network, says intangible activity also plays a part in promoting gender parity.

“Cultivating an environment where women feel comfortable to be themselves even if they represent a minority is vital as it encourages full contribution and helps create an atmosphere where women feel heard and respected,” she notes.

Frangos says some women feel they need to justify their position in the workplace and can be subject to more “hoop jumping”.

“Eliminating this culture across the sector and fostering an environment where female talent can champion themselves just as much as their male colleagues from trainee level, is a clear route to give women the confidence to go for those top roles,” Frangos adds.

Mahtab-Ahmed believes many women are “afraid” to voice their ambitions within the firm.

Women need to be encouraged to voice their interests and be willing to work their way up the ranks, and “then firms will be most likely to make more of an effort to support them.”

Key initiatives for Women 

According to Frangos, many firms are now stepping up their policies to encompass women’s health initiatives such as maternity and the menopause.

“Even for those employees not affected, this goes a long way in educating employees on issues faced by their colleagues and helps to eradicate stigmas that have been prevalent in the workplace for decades, “she states.

The drive behind STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] in schools has been key to encouraging girls into industries like accountancy, says Mahtab-Ahmed.

Mahtab-Ahmed says at Haines Watts, there has been investment into specialised programmes around leadership, management, and negotiation. The initiative recognises the value of having and nurturing different styles, approaches and skills.

“I think this inclusive approach empowers female colleagues to forge ahead but also with the freedom to be authentic,” adds Mahtab-Ahmed.

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