Christine Freshwater on jobs for girls

You’ve got it, she will be replaced by a man. ‘There are too many of them! There’s every chance that a man will take your place,’ she says.

As we revealed last week in our annual Top 50 survey of the UK’s accountancy firms, only one in 10 partners are female. Freshwater, to her credit and bucking the trend, successfully reached the highest level in a profession that is still very much closed to women wanting to become partners.

Even the legal profession can boast of much better statistics, where some 15% of partners, almost double that of accountancy, are female. This comes despite the fact that at the level of professional staff, the statistic is nearer 50:50.

Freshwater excelled in her career from the very start, despite it being a move of fate. She initially became an accountant ‘by accident’ following a card game between her father and his neighbour.

The neighbour happened to suggest she sign up for an apprenticeship – which Freshwater duly did.

She moved to London four years later and joined a firm that subsequently became part of Chantrey Vellacott DFK. Five years later, aged 27, Freshwater became the firm’s only female partner.

It wasn’t until 2000, however, that she was appointed the firm’s managing partner.

Despite the dearth of female partners in the profession Freshwater is confident in her firm’s ability to open up opportunities to women. ‘Chantrey Vellacott isn’t an old fashioned practice, and I’m living proof of that.

‘Many of our female partners have got to different stages of their career and gone out for different reasons. Some have gone into commerce, some have gone to do the “family thing”, and there has been no barrier to them moving forward,’ she explains.

However, our findings haven’t surprised her. ‘It probably hasn’t changed over many years. I hope it will change, but we don’t seem to be able to get the ladies through to the top jobs,’ she says.

Nevertheless Freshwater believes women have many choices. ‘I’m not sure my female colleagues will go along with me, but I think women have more choices than men as to what they want to do with their lives.

‘They can get off at different points of their career, have kids and come back or do something different. I have noticed that more and more legal firms have managing partners,’ she says.

That said Freshwater opted out of the ‘family thing’ and is currently contemplating what awaits her outside the firm. She could be involved in ‘a consultative role’ at the firm in the future, and will definitely continue within the ‘not-for-profit’ sector.


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