Women in Accounting

Accounting has historically been a masculine professional and, to this day, it is still thought of by many as male-oriented. As we move closer to a more equal society, surely this stereotype cannot endure. At Holden Jones we thought it time for an exploration of the reality of the gender balance (or imbalance) in the accounting world. What is the true male-to-female ratio of accounting students? What is the de facto situation of women in the world of accounting and finance?

Since the 1970s, the gender gap at the top of accounting organisations was recognised as being a serious issue. Governments enacted legislation and international accounting organisations, such as AICPA, CICA and ICAEW, worked hard with their members and employers to to try to resolve the problem. The latter have implemented programmes over the last two decades to encourage companies to promote women into top positions through education, support and guidance. These programmes have helped retain the highest achievers, whatever their sex, and the industry also recognised that, for it evolve and retain credibility in the 21st century, gender issues must be addressed quickly and with greater efficacy. Their efforts continue and are making great strides.

If there is already so much work going in to addressing the problem, what are the real facts?

Canada can boast a 50/50 gender split in accounting students
44% of UK accountants are female
In the UK fewer than 25% of partners are women
61% of all accountants in the USA are female
75% of all ACCA members and students in Singapore are female
In the Philippines, 47% of senior managers in accounting are female

Surprised? The Asia-Pacific region leads the way with females entering the accounting profession and is miles ahead with women occupying top posts. So why is the West trailing behind?

One often cited reason for the lack of women in top accounting jobs has been the lack of female role models. The appointment of Christine Lagarde to the top post at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011, has further helped to increase the presence of women breaking the glass ceiling in accounting and finance. In the first quarter of 2015, KPMG and Deloitte’s in north America both announced that, for the first time, they have appointed women to the roles of Chief Executive (Lynne Doughtie) and CEO (Cathy Engelbert), respectively. Three powerful, influential women have come to the fore.

In the UK there is the 30% Club – a voluntary association set-up in 2010 by Helena Morrissey (Goldman Sachs), and backed by the Chairmen of Lloyds Banking group and Centrica – it seeks to address the gender imbalance in boardrooms. Helena’s work has led to 30% Clubs launching in a number of international cities and, without imposing mandatory quotas, their combined efforts have led to a significant increase in the women operating at the top of large organisations.

So, reality shows us that the gender balance is being addressed (there is still plenty of work to do), and in spite of the international trends, the misconception of accounting being male-dominated still persists. Perhaps misconceptions are geographic. Asia-Pacific leads the way for women in accounting, and in the West, the stereotype is slowly fading. Programmes have been created, associations developed, and equality legislation is now being enforced. We hope it’s not too long before the UK reaches and exceeds the ratios of other countries.

What’s next? Well, equal pay for women must be seriously addressed (Equal Pay Act 1970, now incorporated into the Equality Act 2010) and was legislated for over 45 years ago, but that’s an entirely different subject for another blog.

All statistics are correct at the time of publication. For the original sources please see:

Catalyst – Quick Take: Women in Accounting. New York: Catalyst, 2013
The ACCA
Office for National Statistics
Grant Thornton International Business report

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