PracticeAccounting FirmsLeaving women no choice

Leaving women no choice

The other day a taxi driver told me a shocking, but perhaps revealing, story. He told me that his previous passenger, a young female who had just finished her legal training, was facing a dilemma.

One of the UK’s top law firms had offered her a full-time contract. While she should have been jumping for joy, she was in fact torn. Her contract stated she could not have a child within the first five years of employment.

Alarm bells started ringing for me immediately. Isn’t that a human rights issue?

It may be an apocryphal tale, but other, less anecdotal, evidence shows it’s still a man’s world out there run by men for men.

Last week, Accountancy Age revealed that a mere one in 10 partners in the average UK accountancy firm is female. It’s a particularly discomforting statistic when you consider that there’s no lack of women in the profession.

Before you say it’s the way of all professional service firms, bear in mind that in the legal profession around 15% of partners are female.

How is it then that talented female accountants are allowed to slip through the net when we hear daily that the industry is battling to win the right talent, and that attracting and retaining staff is one of its biggest priorities?

Why are women being excluded from this talent pool?

One partner at a leading firm said last week that it was nothing to do with a glass ceiling, but that ‘unfortunately’ women take time out to have children just as their careers reach fruition.

Is this an admission that ‘women can’t have it both ways’? Or is it, as one commentator put, ‘beyond the wit of man to develop the right business structures’? I think not.

As for the argument that clients need consistency, well it’s slightly redundant. Take a look at how your clients run their businesses – you might be surprised at their inclusive, flexible approach.

Whatever happened to providing the right framework for valued employees in order to retain them? The UK’s biggest firms offer in-house services like dry cleaning, locksmiths and house sitters. How about, dare I say it, a creche or reputable child-minding service?

  • Michelle Perry is features editor at Accountancy Age

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