The story of women in accountancy

Two women at laptop

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re looking at how far women have progressed in accountancy, and what the future holds.

Busting stereotypes

Although some may expect otherwise – women now represent a majority of accountants in some countries¹. Of course there are still stereotypes around the job – that it’s dominated by middle aged men and involves a load of number crunching. But this couldn’t be further from the case:

  • ACCA reported that 57% of its currently enrolled students are female¹.
  • According to research, the Philippines has 47% of women in senior management – this is higher than any other country¹.
  • Did you know that a century ago, women could not join professional accounting bodies because of their gender? Now there is a near equal split across accountancy bodies².

How companies are adapting

Nearly half the people who start off in accountancy are women, yet they are under represented at management level. Just over 10% of the 4,914 partners in the top 60 firms are female while there are just three female finance directors among the FTSE 100 companies³.

In 2020, three times as many females take career breaks than males² which can result in disengagement with careers and might result in a loss of their talent. The leading financial companies agree. Organisations such as Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers are also beginning to introduce new perks and benefits. These include flexible scheduling, reduced hours and on-ramping assistance after family leave.

For those who can see long working hours as an obstacle to raising a family, these kinds of allowances can certainly make the industry more attractive for women moving forwards.

Other grassroots movements at finance firms are springing up to promote gender equality. Several firms studied by the Harvard Business Review⁴ have started holding regular focus groups to promote open communication. In these sessions they talk about how they’re going to not only attract, but retain female graduates.

Challenges

There are amazing women working in finance who add huge value to their companies, look at Marta Andreasen, who has been recognised in history for raising concerns about flaws in the European commission’s accounting system.

Diversity can add a huge value to businesses and a great way to evaluate this is through the gender split. There’s even evidence that has shown that companies with more women in leadership positions are more profitable and more efficient³.

So while many employers understand the power of having women sat at the table, the challenge they now face is changing the perception of what goes on in the boardroom. There’s a debate that this is needed in order to attract female leaders into such senior roles.

If we look at how to get more women to the top, highlighting role models would be a great start.

We can aspire to learn from women like Kathryn Cearns, the previous chairman of the Financial Reporting Advisory Board to HM Treasury, and she was Chairman of the ICAEW Financial Reporting Committee for 10 years up to the end of 2017.

Let’s remember that since women are under-represented in the upper echelons, it’s important that the industry acknowledges those who make it.

The future of women in finance

Women have come really far over the years – there are more women than ever entering the accountancy industry and assuming roles with increasing responsibility.

Over the past 20 years the percentage of female students has gradually increased for all seven bodies. Figures have ranged from 43% for ICAEW up to 57% for ACCA¹.

But there’s still some way to go until true equality in the industry. So what does the future hold?

We’re currently looking at close to a 50/50 split in membership of the accountancy student body². As these students graduate and start practicing, we can be optimistic that the split will filter its way into accounting workplaces.

Supporting women

Every year on the 8th of March we celebrate International Women’s Day. Across the world we’re encouraged to inspire women and celebrate their economic, political and social achievements.

We think it’s a great time to share our commitment to championing the role of women, both in accountancy and throughout the wider business world. After all, we’re here to give people the freedom to learn, live life and feel great.

There’s a good reason why more and more women are choosing accountancy. It offers rewarding careers and really fair opportunities for progression. Download our brochure for more guidance on how to get started in accountancy.

¹Career development: A woman’s world https://www.accaglobal.com/uk/en/student/sa/features/a-womans-world.html
²Women in accountancy – are the numbers adding up? https://london.ac.uk/news-opinion/london-connection/feature/women-accountancy-adding-up
³Women in Accountancy https://www.icaew.com/membership/support-throughout-your-career/career-progression/women-in-accountancy
⁴What Will It Take to Make Finance More Gender-Balanced? https://hbr.org/2018/12/what-will-it-take-to-make-finance-more-gender-balanced
⁵Women in accountancy: What do women want from accountancy? https://www.accountancydaily.co/women-accountancy-what-do-women-want-accountancy