Women want flexible hours

Women face a major hurdle in forging a career in accountancy – they can’t take advantage of the old boys’ network.

A survey by the Women in Accountancy group revealed 63% of women think that the old school tie is still used to get ahead, and 74% believe they do not have the same promotional prospects as male colleagues.

Concerns such as these caused women members of the English ICA to request advice on workplace issues, resulting in the annual Workplace 2000 event. Organised by WIA, Workplace 2000 provides an opportunity for analysis and discussion of issues facing women accountants.

At the recent conference, guest speaker Teresa Graham, a partner at Group A firm Baker Tilly, said the main issue facing women accountants was balancing professional and private lives in a job where long hours and rigid work practices are the norm.

Women make up 30% of qualified accountants and 36% of accounting trainees.

The survey also indicated that the majority of firms do not value women’s careers as highly as they do men’s.

Women accountants’ average earnings were found to be significantly lower than men’s and fewer women reached senior positions. WIA said the survey highlighted the need for a set of initiatives which would allow women to compete on an equal footing with men. The organisation also called for greater recognition of women’s support networks, which encourage women to develop skills to juggle work and private commitments.

‘What we want is a better balance between work and family life and more control over the amount of hours we work,’ said Graham.

‘Women accountants in Ireland believe the best way to get ahead is to act like a man. This is a problem because we know that men and women have different meanings for the same words, so it does not lead to effective communication. Flexibility is the key word for employers and this is the only way women will be able to maintain jobs in accountancy effectively,’ she continued.

Family-friendly flexibility

A WIA study suggested that flexible working policies are more family-friendly and as a result attract more women than men. The survey showed that 66% of women wanted greater flexibility over the hours they worked.

‘Policies on flexible working can help bridge the gap between work and family life, but they also meet commercial needs – what suits the employee can also suit the employer,’ said Kamlesh Bahl, Equal Opportunities Commission chairwoman. ‘Flexible working pays dividends in terms of improved staff morale, motivation and retention. Organisations with flexible working practices will find they have the edge over other organisations; equality and flexibility go together,’ Bahl continued.

Graham called for the other Big Six firms to adopt the same attitude as Price Waterhouse, the first major chartered accountancy firm to have introduced a flexible benefits package with its FLEX scheme.

Traditional ways outdated

Institute vice president elect Graham Ward said: ‘The profession needs to move into the millennium and the traditional ways of managing women in accountancy are no longer important. Not enough work is being done to harness potential opportunities.’

Ward said advances in technology have gone some way towards making work easier for women. He joined Graham in the call for more firms to employ flexible work practices for women.

‘We are very pleased the vice president believes this is the way forward,’ said Graham. ‘A change in the workplace will never happen unless there is pressure from the top.’

Psychologist Ros Taylor conducted an analysis of attitudes of women to problems in the workplace. ‘Transformation is the key word for women working in the profession,’ she said.

‘We need to change our approach to work problems and adopt strategies which will enable them to cope with situations in the workplace positively.

Women need to be able to locate the areas in which they are skilled and make a point of letting the right people know what their areas of specialty are,’ continued Taylor. She stressed that networking and interpersonal skills are vital for women in the profession. ‘If women want to break through the glass ceiling, they need to develop and keep in touch with what is happening in it. They need a detailed plan highlighting areas in which they want to develop and where they want to be in the future,’ she added.

WIA says more work needs to be done to maximise the economic contribution that can be gained from a more flexible workforce. The organisation said that the benefits of flexible hours will only be realised if flexibility is accompanied by reasonable security for employees, and said it hoped the suggestions discussed were put into place to help accountants of both genders and the profession as a whole.

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