Despite a male/female ratio of around 50:50 for professional staff, more than 90% of partners in the average firm in this year’s Accountancy Age Top 50 league table are male.
Smith & Williamson has the highest proportion of female partners among the top 10 firms, with 15%. It is only beaten in the survey by Armstrong Watson, where 25% of partners are female.
Five other top 10 firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, only have 8% of partners who are female.
Five of the 40 accountancy firms, prepared to reveal the gender split of partners, have no female partners at all. Top 10 firms PKF and Tenon refused to reveal the gender of their partners.
A spokesperson for the Equal Opportunities Commission said that, unless accountancy firms were able to recruit and retain more female talent, they would continue to miss out on a valuable resource.
‘Experienced and capable women leave the profession when they can’t reconcile the demands of having a family with the long hours associated with many senior-level jobs,’ a spokesperson said.
‘Accountancy firms that fail to recognise that losing a high proportion of valuable and skilled staff is bad for business will lose out.’
The revelations come as the only female managing partner in a top 20 firm in the UK announced she was stepping down.
Chantrey Vellacott DFK’s Christine Freshwater said she was not surprised by the findings. ‘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 said.
‘I have noticed that more and more legal firms have female managing partners. Hopefully this growing trend will be followed by the accountancy profession,’ she added.
Freshwater, who stands down tomorrow and will be succeeded by Mike Tovey, former head of Chantrey Vellacott’s e-business consultancy division, said there were no barriers to progression at Chantrey Vellacott.
‘Many of our female partners have got to different stages of their career and left for different reasons,’ she said.
Some have gone into commerce, some have gone to do the family thing, but there ‘has been no barrier to them moving forward.’
Mike Wasinski, a partner at Hacker Young, which declined to give a gender breakdown for partners, said his firm found that ‘many promising women tend to take time out to have a family just as their career opportunities are reaching fruition’. He added: ‘It’s a sad fact of professional life and one that we are not alone in experiencing. Clients like continuity.’
But Derek Brownlee, an executive at the Institute of Directors, said he was shocked by the findings: ‘Astonishing. It’s not a male-dominated profession in terms of intake and even at middle senior manager level it’s fairly even.’
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