The Debate: End to male-domination

Smashing the glass ceiling

By Andrew Harding

The representation of women in business is more fragile in some sectors than others. While only 7% of directors in the FTSE100 are female, in the public sector, 50% of senior managerial and finance roles are filled by women.

While the glass ceiling for women in accountancy still exists, the cracks are starting to appear in the industry’s invisible barriers. ACCA, in line with its philosophy of equal opportunityand by working with its members, is determined to smash through it.

ACCA’s female membership has quadrupled in the past 18 years to the point where today there are more than 36,000 female members worldwide – that’s almost 40% of the total. The ratio continues to improve with each passing year. With women accounting for 51% of ACCA’s student population, it is clear that the future for women in the profession is bright.

The rise in the number of women entering the profession is particularly clear when you look at the number of ACCA members under 35. In that age range, 58% of those in the public sector are women. Even in the corporate sector, female ACCAs outnumber their male counterparts slightly. The gap is also closing in public practice. Eventually, these figures should translate into more women filling senior positions in all sectors.

In recognition of this trend, ACCA focuses on the needs of women in business. It contributes to government initiatives and policies and has held a conference on women in self-employment. Plans for the future include conducting research on access to finance for women in business.

The desire to encourage women to enter accountancy is not new to ACCA. In 1909, it became the first professional body to open its doors to female accountants and, in 1980, was the first international accountancy body to elect a female president.

While it has taken a century to reach a point where there is parity in the numbers of men and women entering accountancy, ACCA is working to ensure that it will not take another century for women to enjoy the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

  • Andrew Harding is executive director of ACCA UK

Female-friendly culture needed
By Fiona Price

The theme that runs common to accountancy, tax and personal finance is that so few women choose to pursue these careers. Their scant presence is no surprise given the male-dominated financial world’s reputation for being jargonated, patronising and full of the ‘hard-sell’.

In my own profession – personal finance – less than 5% of the independent financial adviser population is female, yet women are often better qualified than their male counterparts and generally perceived by the public to be more trustworthy.

In addition, the career is well suited to women. It is intellectually challenging, flexible, client focused and remunerative. Women tend to put their clients at the centre of their business, inspired by wanting to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

Personally, I believe the female approach to business can go a long way to helping to repair the tarnished reputation of the sector. Given the average profile of those in the sector – essentially male and nearing retirement – action is needed now to avoid a potentially serious problem regarding the injection of fresh talent.

Just over two years ago, I set up the non-profit, Women’s IFA Group (WIG) to support and develop women. Today we have more than 900 members and run regional events, as well as an annual ‘IFA Woman of the Year Award’. The support I have received has been very encouraging, and demonstrates I am not alone in seeing a growing future for women.

Family-friendly policies are also essential, and are good for men and women. But the big issue is creating a more family and female-friendly culture, that not only appeals to clients, but also aids retention of women in the sector. Women are not inspired by business targets first and foremost – they tend to start by doing the right thing for their clients and work this back into a profitable model.

The more usual (and dare I say, male) approach starts with profit, which is how we arrive at such short-termism in business. Instinctively, women are long termers and this is good for everyone.

  • Fiona Price is founder & chairperson of the Women’s IFA Group

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