Accountancy Age revealed last week that as few as one in 10 partners at UK accountancy firms is female. And this week, firms were being urged to be more open with the way they view flexible working hours and review the assessment methods used to judge potential partners.
‘Businesses benefit from diversity and organisations that do not create an environment that retains valuable and skilled staff lose out,’ said Claire Ighodaro, president of CIMA. ‘The Higgs review made it quite clear that companies need to widen the gene pool of talent in the boardroom.’
David Illingworth, president of the ICAEW, agreed, saying professionals are increasingly looking for a life outside work as well as climbing the career ladder.
‘Firms that recognise the needs of clients, while offering supportive cultures where flexibility is regarded as the norm and not seen as a barrier to career advancement, should reap the rewards in terms of enhanced recruitment and retention.’
While the professional bodies were keen to emphasise the increasing numbers of women entering the profession, it is the career development process that acts as the barrier to most would-be partners.
Andrew Harding, executive director at ACCA UK, said that, for the first time, more women than men had graduated with an ACCA qualification. He added that he hoped this would lead directly to more female partners. ‘We hope to see the incoming female accountants moving into partnerships with the big firms,’ he said.
And because all of the Big Four firms now have reasonably well-developed initiatives to improve on the ratio, it could become a reality.
Steve Rolls, national director of resourcing at Ernst & Young, said there was a higher proportion of women passing its newly restructured continual assessment programme than men. ‘The real issue,’ he said, ‘is getting them to that stage’.
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