Moving forward: women on top

We all know that the ubiquitous war for talent is still raging, and that
organisations need to be more innovative in their retention strategies to avoid
losing key skills sets to competitors. So why is it that the accountancy firms
don’t seem to have followed the example of, arguably, more progressive employers
such as many of the FTSE 100 companies and top investment banks?

New research from strategy consulting firm McKinsey has found a direct link
between company results and women at the top, and has unearthed evidence of
better than average financial performance by European companies with the highest
proportion of women in influential leadership roles.

Across the pond, US research body Catalyst has found that Fortune 500
companies with the highest proportion of female directors are more profitable
and efficient than those with the lowest.

And in a recent survey carried out by my firm among female accountants
working outside professional accountancy firms, over two thirds believed they
have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts.

Female accountants appeared optimistic about the future, with more than half
expecting an improvement in equal opportunities over the next five years.
Reasons cited for this included general changes of opinion in society, a more
merit-based approach to promotion and the influence of a growing number of women
in senior positions in business.

This is borne out by yet another report, this time from Cranfield Business
School in its annual study of women in the boardroom, which says that one in
five of new appointments to FTSE 100 boards last year went to a woman ­ a far
cry from the average percentage of female partners, which stands at around 9.7%.

Accountancy firms may have done much to promote the ethos of diversity and
equal opportunities. However, if this is not translated into more female
partners, the annual haemorrhage of newly qualified accountants to other sectors
is likely to increase.

Those firms that provide the support and opportunity for women to effectively
climb the partnership ladder will be the ones that will ultimately win the war
for talent.

Paul Bibby is chief executive of financial recruiter Elements

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