Rightly or wrongly, the accountancy profession is still hung up on the issue
of women in partnership.
Although the number of female partners is increasing, Accountancy
Age’s Top 50 survey revealed that the average percentage of female partners
in the 50 top firms is still just 11.9% up from 10.9% last year. This may
explain why many people, particularly those outside the profession, still
believe there is a glass ceiling in place.
There have certainly been significant changes in accountancy since I entered
the profession in 1995.
When deciding on a career in accountancy I was not aware of the glass ceiling
issue and it did not occur to me for a second that being a woman would have a
negative impact on my career. When deciding which firm to train with I was not
swayed by diversity polices; I knew I wanted a mid-tier firm where I could gain
varied experience and advance quickly if I performed well.
My intake was divided fairly evenly between men and women and, when I joined
the firm, there was a good representation of females across all departments,
although there were no female partners. The long-running debate over the lack of
women in partnership may still deter some female graduates or lead them to place
too much emphasis on diversity policies. I was qualified for two years before
the firm had any female partners, but I never felt there was a barrier to women
After qualifying I became an audit manager in 2000 and subsequently decided
that I would stay in private practice. I was aware that there was an opportunity
to progress quickly at haysmacintyre and my expectation was that, if I proved I
was right for the role, and there was a business case to be a partner, there
would be no reason why I should not expect partnership in a short timeframe.
When I became partner in 2006 there was only one other female partner and I
was the first woman to be internally promoted to that level. The firm has a
relatively high proportion of female partners (21%) although it is easy to place
too much significance on this.
We have a comparatively high number of female partners simply because, in the
last three years, the best candidates for partnership have been female. We have
promoted the best people for the roles and it would be unfair to suggest it has
been driven by corporate social responsibility or trying to manufacture a
particular reputation for the firm.
While the number of female partners will always be monitored and probably
continue to make headlines for a few years, diversity will never influence the
decision to promote an individual to partner. It has to make sense for the firm
as a business.
As long as the glass ceiling is still perceived to exist there will be
interest in the number of female partners at the Top 50 firms.
It is difficult to know whether diversity or the number of female partners
specifically is an issue for prospective clients. I work with corporate
clients from a range of sectors, including manufacturing, property and financial
services, all of which have traditionally been male-dominated.
Many of the clients I advise are male, but it has never been an issue either
for them or for me. Although I have had positive comments from some who have
noticed that we have a good representation of women in the partnership, I would
be surprised if it was a factor for prospective clients. Above all, clients want
high-quality, cost-efficient service, and for that they need the right people.
Whether they are male or female is irrelevant.
The fact that the number of female partners is increasing must be reassuring
for female graduates and other women considering a career in the profession. I’d
like to think that the success of female former trainees at haysmacintyre in
the last three years we have seen four admitted to the partnership acts as an
incentive for the other female staff here.
Certainly the number of female partners we have reinforces the fact that, if
you are good enough, you will progress regardless of gender. The firm’s
willingness to fast-track strong individuals has been a factor in more women
becoming partner in recent years it is possible to make the jump in as little
as nine or ten years.
However, it is worth pointing out that reaching the top of their profession
as soon as possible is not necessarily every person’s goal, male or female. In
any career or profession, women in particular face a trade-off; family versus
career. Of course it is not one at the expense of the other, but an extended
time away from work, whether you are male or female, will have an impact on your
progression in the short-term.
The ongoing debate about the glass ceiling can leave a bitter taste, as there
is the inference that women who have reached the top have been assisted in some
way. Partners need to be promoted on ability alone if we are to continue to
service clients and grow our business.
With the number of female partners increasing across firms of all sizes, it
is starting to look like the glass ceiling was a generational problem which will
continue to be eroded over time. I would be surprised if women entering the
profession now genuinely think their gender may be an issue for them in
progressing in their chosen career. As is quite often the case with trends like
this, change can be a long time coming but once it does come it can accelerate
Bernadette Pritchard is a partner at
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