All change at the bottom, but crisis brewing on high

With 5,000 responses, there is no more comprehensive and independent view of the UK accountancy industry. And while that overwhelming response is indicative of just how seriously the issues of salary and careers are taken by UK accountants, it is also very much a sign of the depressed times.

Then there is the issue of new versus old. The younger an accountant, the more likely they will be female. And the more likely it is that they will hold a CIMA qualification, rather than a chartered accountancy badge.

At the top, however, little has changed: partners and finance directors are overwhelmingly ICAEW-qualified and overwhelmingly male. Indeed 87% of finance directors are male in the UK, for example, as are 84% of partners, according to our poll.

We could conclude that the increasing feminisation of the profession at entry-level will deal with this problem in time. But that would be complacent. The current situation is bad enough to require more urgent action – especially when put in the context that if you’re female you are likely to be less happy in your job. 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.

When it comes to salaries it gets worse. With an average salary of £43,738 a year, female FDs routinely earn 20% less than their male equivalents.

Male partners meanwhile earn on average £58,349 – a jaw-dropping 43% more than the average earned by female partners.

Last week, most readers will have seen the blanket coverage given by newspaper financial pages to the case of Louise Barton.

Supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission, Barton won her appeal in a high-profile sex discrimination case. That case may have turned on the somewhat secretive world of investment bank bonus policies. But if the pay disparities currently existing at the top of finance departments and accountancy firms are allowed to persist, an accountancy firm or large plc could find itself dragged to court in an EOC-backed case too.

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