Behind the numbers: still too male and pale

These are the sorts of questions this year’s Accountancy Age
is bound to generate. To a degree, they are as unanswerable now as they
have ever been; though, in truth, the relevance of the questions has waned. All
the same, the statistics speak for themselves: accountancy remains a profession
that is dominated by white men.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard sly mention over the past
decade of how the make-up of the profession is about to change. Institute
topping out ceremonies are regularly diverse affairs, yet there has been a
failure to translate this into diversity at the top. One female managing partner
in a Top 50 firm is not an impressive statistic .

Of course, it’s not confined to accountancy. A few weeks ago I attended the
launch of the first Women in the City Awards. Val Singh, deputy director of the
international centre for women business leaders at Cranfield School of
Management, spoke at the launch and revealed some grim statistics about the
state of female representation within the upper tiers of business.

Among FTSE100 companies, only 4% of executive directors are women. (She could
have added that only 1% of its CFOs are female: Helen Weir of Lloyds TSB).
Around 12% of top team members are female, at least, suggesting a pipeline that
may push up the alarming top table statistic a little in the coming years. This
rises to 16% among FTSE250 companies.

Interestingly, Singh recently interviewed chief executives and chairmen of
many of these companies about what they wanted to see from their female
executives and the answer certainly wasn’t for them to act more like their male
colleagues. ‘They want women on the board who are honest about their emotional
intelligence,’ she said. ‘They want women who are brave enough and honest enough
to say when they feel something isn’t right.’

Author and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan’s explanation of why more
substantial change hasn’t yet happened perhaps hit the nail on the head. ‘You
can get the job – we’ve shown that. You can get the title and sometimes you can
even get the salary. What’s difficult to get is clout so when as a woman you
open your mouth, everybody shuts up and listens.’

Damian Wild is editor-in-chief of Accountancy Age

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