Can women have it all? In a roundtable and panel discussion women across the industry discussed their experiences of gender parity, the gender pay gap, support in returning to work after maternity leave, and the difficulties in maintaining a work / life balance.
Our salary survey revealed a 22% gender pay gap in the accountancy profession, higher than the national average, which suggests that there is more work to be done to achieve gender parity at the highest levels of the financial services sector.
The roundtable discussion comprised of women of all ages, at all stages of their career – from those in education and starting their career, to those coming back into the workplace after having children, to more experienced women who have left practice to become professors.
Comparing the experiences of women entering the workplace now versus decades ago revealed the ways in which the industry has changed, and also exposed universal issues that continue to plague women today.
It was discussed how not too long ago it was common for women to be asked whether they planned to have children during a job interview, and be judged accordingly. A lot of the roundtable attendees who were mothers described their anxieties around re-entering the workforce after a period of maternity leave, and had vastly differing views on the levels of support they were given by their organisation – some praising their organisations for being extremely flexible and supportive, others feeling more on their own.
Some women also recalled a time where they were not permitted to wear trousers to work. While that seems like a far cry from what the workplace looks like for women today, as recently as 2015 PwC sent a female employee home for not wearing heels. This goes to show that although we have come a long way, there is still more work to be done.
A lot of the issues discussed applied to women across the spectrum – striving for equality and respect in the workplace while juggling feelings of “guilt”, which was described as a very “female” feeling. This guilt applied to not spending enough time with their children, or elderly parents, and struggling to justify making time for themselves to unwind.
The feeling of “imposter syndrome” was also discussed as a pervasive issue, with some women revealing the feelings of insecurities and self-doubt that they have had to consciously overcome.
Anecdotally, it seemed that women are more likely to start their own practices than men, after being unsatisfied with their traditional workplace environments. Often these practices are set up while simultaneously holding down a regular job, and women discussed their trepidation in taking a leap of faith and quitting their day job to fully invest their time into their own business.
The biggest takeaway was that no two women have had the same experience, and that supporting one another- through mentorships, role models – is key.
The millennial-focussed sessions at Accountex discussed the experiences of a new generation of accountants, and revealed how differently millennials work – the world of work is changing for them, and being changed by them.
The panel, comprising of entrepreneurial millennials who had started their own firms, said harnessing technology was key to the way they work, and some described how they chose to start their own businesses after feeling a resistance to technology from their more traditional employers. While touting the benefits of various technologies and apps, it was stressed that millennials should still master the spreadsheet before moving to the app.
The roundtable discussion and panel session highlighted how millennials have different priorities in the workplace to their predecessors, particularly valuing personal development and autonomy in the workplace.
In the roundtable, when millennials were asked to name what they felt their workplace was lacking, autonomy in the form of flexible working / remote working came top. Millennial business-starters on the panel said that this was something they prioritised in the running of their companies.
While flexible working was seen as the future, boundless flexibility was not necessarily the answer, as one panellist running her own company discovered that initially face-to-face training may be needed, which can gradually move into more flexibility.
Personal development and skills acquisition in the workplace was also said to be crucial to millennials. At the roundtable, one millennial in a mid-level manager role said she prioritises her young team’s personal development, providing the type of support she does not feel she gets from her own manager.
Millennials also voiced concerns over the difficulties of climbing the corporate ladder in the modern workplace – feeling that they often have to make sideways career moves rather than upwards. This often ends in frustration when senior bosses question their slower progress in comparison to their own paths.