Equality’s not just a pipe dream

When I joined Pricewaterhouse-Coopers more than 30 years ago there were about
100 of us in that year’s graduate intake. Only two were women and I seem to
remember that both of them left less than six months later. Not surprisingly
there were no women partners at all. I’m fairly certain this was the situation
across the profession then.

So the accountancy profession has come a long way in a single generation. At
least 50% of new ACCA students each year are now female and as they qualify I’m
sure that their numbers in the Top 50 firms will rise from 37% to nearer 50%.
Similarly, I expect to see a rise in the number of female partners, but it may
take another generation before as many as half of all partners are women.

However, some argue that there is some sort of glass ceiling that will
prevent the numbers from climbing that high? I don’t think there is, although
there probably has been in the past. The raw Accountancy Age data is, I
think, a reflection of things as they were and not as they will be.

We all have to make choices in our careers. The profession is not right for
everyone – some of us want to run businesses rather than advise them – but I
don’t see why there should be a gender bias in this. There is a case, however,
for saying that the profession offers more flexibility (and therefore scope for
different forms of the so-called work/life balance) than a line management
corporate role. But I’m a bit sceptical about how real this difference is.

Having said that, I believe there is potentially more flexibility in some
aspects of professional practice. Tax work is one such area. Perhaps that is why
a recent search I did for someone to fill a senior personal tax advisory role in
a Top 10 accounting firm, identified more women than men. Perhaps such a role
can offer an attractive career for women who choose to have children.

Home working, flexible hours, a growing variety of ways of communicating and
message-taking mean that being tied to the office is, for many, a thing of the
past. And men can benefit from this sort of flexibility just as much as women

Of one thing I can be certain: I will not be around in 2100. So I will never
know what happens, but my prediction is that if professional firms still exist
then and have partners then about 50% will be women and 50% will be men. It’s
just that it’s taking a bit of time to get there.

John Collier is director of Clive & Stokes International (Executive

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