No longer just about middle-aged men

By taking the views of more than 5,200 accountants across the UK, this year’s survey is the most comprehensive yet. The survey featured in Accountancy Age and on and was promoted by Robert Half to its candidate base.

So while most of the respondents are members of the five main UK accountancy bodies (more than 70% of our sample hold ICAEW, ICAS, CIMA, ACCA passports), it also takes into account the views of a significant number of part-qualifieds and other-qualifieds too. Members of the Association of Accounting Technicians and the Irish Institute of Chartered Accountants also participated as did a handful of US-qualified accountants and MBAs. It all adds up to the most comprehensive picture of UK accountants’ thinking – in an industry going through some fundamental changes.

Take the Enron effect, for example. Last year almost one in 10 of you said you feared that the successive corporate catastrophes of last year would harm your short-term career prospects. Only 5% of you say it has affected your career prospects today, the same number who predicts it will affect your career.

But look behind the headline numbers and the picture is somewhat more bleak. Some 14% of auditors say that the scandal has affected their careers, with 8% of partners and 13% of auditors in accountancy firms feeling the same way.

Most worryingly of all, 14% of partners believe the continuing fallout from accountancy’s annus horribilis will blight their careers. Admittedly we don’t detect a widespread feeling that the effects will be ruinous, but don’t kid yourselves that this one has played itself out just yet.

But this year’s main story is a forward-looking one. More and more of those entering the profession are female and if the current trend continues then the all-male stereotype (and let’s not forget to thank Monty Python for that one) might go the way of the infamous parrot.

According to our poll, almost 40% of accountants working today are female – that’s up from 30% 12 months ago. In the Square Mile it’s even higher – 42% of City-based accountants are female. But London is no match for Basingstoke where 47% of accountants are female. Draw your own conclusions.

When it comes to gender, there’s not a great deal to choose between the qualifications. But it might not surprise some of you to learn that if you are a chartered accountant (qualifying through either the English or Scots ICAs) then you are more likely to be male than if you have qualified with either ACCA, CIMA or CIPFA.

But it’s not all good news on the equality front. The pay of female accountants continues to lag behind that enjoyed by their male equivalents – and the top jobs, in most cases, are still bastions of male dominance.

Some 87% of finance directors are male in the UK, for instance, as are 84% of partners. Audit and tax are different, however. Here 31% and 45% are female – and hopefully many of them are the partners of tomorrow.

In payroll and credit control more than half the employee base is female and of those using the general term ‘accountant’ to describe their role, 43% are female.

On salaries the picture is even worse. Take the role of finance director for example.

A female FD earns, on average, £43,738 a year, compared with the £52,284 earned by male equivalents. That’s a difference of 20%.

In fact it’s a similar picture across the job functions: the percentage difference in earnings between males and females is in double digits among audit specialists, financial controllers, accountants, credit controllers, tax specialists, finance managers, heads of finance and accounts managers.

In fact our survey only uncovered one job function where pay equality prevails – among accounts assistants – and only one role where women routinely earn more than men. With an annual pay packet of £58,625 a year, average earnings among female consultants are 13% higher than among men holding down similar jobs. It is, however, a role that is becoming less common within accountancy firms.

And that is not the only bad news from the practice camp. The further up the ladder you climb within firms, it seems, the worse it is. Male partners earn on average £58,349 while female partners earn an average of £40,813 a year. The difference is a staggering – and worrying – 43%.

But perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that if you are a woman working in accountancy, you are much less likely to feel integral to your organisation than if you are a man. Some 22% of male accountants feel ‘very important’ at work; just 14% of female accountants do so. And 26% of females feel ‘unimportant’ compared with 21% of males.

Interpret this negatively and you would argue that the old boy’s network persists unabated. But let’s be generous. Hopefully it’s just a sign of male arrogance when responding to a survey.

Sector: business
Job: financial director
Company: Vodafone Group
Age: 58
Earnings: £1,327,000
Appointed: 1985 (to board)

Sector: public sector
Job title: controller, Audit Commission
Age: 58
Earnings: £200,000 (to be paid to successor when Sir Andrew stands down this year)
Appointed: 1993

Sector: practice
Job title: chairman, KPMG International, UK senior partner
Age: 55
Earnings: £1,600,000
Appointed: chairman since 2002, UK senior partner since 1998

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