Behind the numbers: you’re so macho

damian wild

I wouldn’t normally admit that. It’s not something that will endear me to
readers. I’m only making it clear as what I’m about to write sounds like it
could have been scribbled a couple of decades back, not a couple of weeks ago.

You might have missed the truly terrifying research published by ICAS earlier
this month into ‘macho’ accountancy firms. It deserved more attention than it

It appeared within days of publication of our Top 50 survey, which revealed a
profession, in practice at least, that remained stubbornly white, male,
middle-class and middle-aged at the very top.

In its own way the ICAS research was more troubling. It put the flesh on the
statistical bones of our own survey.

‘Female chartered accountants still experience a ‘glass ceiling’ in the
workplace as they strive to become partners at their firms,’ concluded the
research team led by professor Elizabeth Gammie of Aberdeen Business School,
Robert Gordon University.

‘The reason – a “macho” culture of long hours and informal male networks in
operation within professional accountancy firms,’ she added.

There were a few numbers – nearly one in three of the women of the 600 or so
ICAS members who responded to the questionnaire felt that they had experienced
workplace discrimination.

But it was the discriminatory tales told by some of the interviewees that
looked the worst. ‘When I first became a partner I walked into my first
partners’ meeting and one partner said: ‘Oh great you are here to make the
coffee,’ recounted one female Big Four partner.

Another female Big Four partner said little had changed during her career:
‘The different way men treat women hasn’t stopped. I was frustrated by the
reaction of some of my fellow partners or clients, although I now react
differently to chauvinistic comments.

I now laugh them off, although I still receive comments indicative of an
underlying chauvinistic feeling. If you are 28 and striving for the top then you
may react differently.’

A familiar story is told by another female partner. ‘If I had £1 for every
time somebody asks if you are thinking about babies and when will you have them
I would be rich? That issue is always hanging around,’ she said.

Taken together our Top 50 and the ICAS research should give firms plenty to
think about over the summer.

Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age

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