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It’s time we cut the bullshit.

There is a silent barrier impacting our day to day lives and we won’t solve it by ignoring it. If you read last weeks blog Equality Starts At Home you will know I am talking about gender inequality but this time we are going into the workplace.

In 2023 I was called out as being “part of the problem” twice, the first time on race and secondly diversity of conference speakers and twice I resisted the inference until I realised, I was part of the problem. Only then could I move forward as part of the solution.

My word for 2024 is Equality and this blog is an attempt to focus on contributing to the solution. To any men reading this blog, this is your chance, to any women reading this post, I applaud you, I will never be able to understand how it feels but I stand with you. I am a father, a son, a brother, and an uncle and under no situation should you be made to feel anything less than equal.

Historical Biases in Accountancy

Historically, accountancy has been perceived as a prestigious, decision-making field, predominantly occupied by men. This inequality is not just a matter of job titles but echoes wider societal stereotypes about gender roles and professional status as men were given the opportunity for education and careers whilst women were given the role of homemakers.

While the number of women in accounting has grown, with an increasing presence in leadership roles, the stereotype persists. Women accountants often face challenges in breaking into higher echelons of management, hindered by a professional culture that sometimes undervalues their contributions compared to their male counterparts.

Professional bodies advocate for greater gender equality, mentorship programs, and policies aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion. However, the journey towards a truly equal professional landscape in accounting only works if we deliver it. It is a path that demands not only structural changes within firms and the education system but also a shift in the cultural and societal perceptions of gender roles which is why I firmly believe equality starts at home.

The goal has to be creating an environment where gender does not predetermine career trajectory in accounting, and where the contributions of all professionals, regardless of their role, are equally valued and respected.

Challenges Faced by Women in Accounting

Women in the accounting profession face several barriers, with underrepresentation in leadership roles being a significant issue. According to the Office of National Statistics, as of 2020, about 75% of senior positions in accountancy were still held by men, highlighting the gender disparity at the top levels of the field. This underrepresentation in leadership has multiple issues, stemming from various factors:

Traditional Gender Roles and Biases: Deep-seated societal norms and biases often influence perceptions about women’s roles and abilities in the workplace. This can lead to stereotyping and unconscious bias, impacting hiring, promotion, and evaluation processes.

Career Progression Challenges: Women in accounting often encounter difficulties in advancing to higher-level positions. This can be due to a lack of mentorship, sponsorship, and role models in senior roles, making it challenging for women to navigate the path to leadership.

Work-Life Balance: The accounting profession can be demanding, with long hours and significant work pressures. Balancing these demands with family or caregiving responsibilities, which often disproportionately fall on women, can hinder career progression.

Pay Disparity: The gender pay gap, as discussed earlier, also plays a role in creating barriers. It can discourage women from staying in or advancing within the profession, perpetuating the cycle of underrepresentation.

Lack of Flexible Working Options: Although this is gradually changing, the accounting industry has traditionally been slower in adopting flexible working arrangements, which are crucial for many women, especially those with family responsibilities but again this should not fall disproportionately on women.

Cultural and Organisational Barriers: Organisational cultures that do not actively support diversity and inclusion can be less conducive to women advancing to leadership roles. This includes a lack of policies that actively promote gender equality and address issues like harassment and discrimination.

Addressing these barriers requires concerted efforts from both the accounting industry and individual firms, including implementing policies for equitable hiring and promotion, offering mentorship and sponsorship programs, providing flexible working options, and fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

I’ve been in the boardroom and senior management meetings when the phone call comes in to pick up a sick child from school. It is rarely the father leaving the workplace and wow betide me the grief that poor guy is getting from his colleagues when it does. You can see the look of relief in the Dad’s face that their kids didn’t let them down by being ill – proud Dad moment right there!

“Haven’t you got a wife for that?”. It’s not acceptable and we need to call out this behaviour.

Until the gender pay gap is a thing of the past, I don’t think we will see an end to this sort of old school football terrace chanting. We put a greater value on a man’s time in the workplace because of his higher earning potential because of the gender pay gap. Importance and status are attached to earning power in the workplace. If that was removed the decision becomes a straightforward one between who is best placed. It stops being about money and starts being about the best solution.

The Gender Pay Gap in Accountancy

In the UK accounting industry, gender inequality remains a significant issue. While nearly half of all qualified accountants are female (45.47%), only a fifth of women hold senior roles within the sector. This highlights a clear discrepancy between the number of women entering the profession and those advancing to higher-level positions. The challenges contributing to this disparity include a persistent gender pay gap, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and work-life balance issues, particularly for women with family responsibilities.

“There is little difference in median hourly pay for male and female full-time employees aged in their 20s and 30s, but a substantial gap emerges among full-time employees aged 40 and over. This links to parenthood – the gap between male and female hourly earnings grows gradually but steadily in the years after parents have their first child.”

Check out the full Gender Pay Gap report published January 2024.

According to a report by the Spencer Clarke Group, the gap stands at around 23% less pay for women compared to men in similar finance roles. This significant disparity highlights not only a systemic issue in pay equity but also reflects broader societal and professional biases.

This gap has only seen a quarter reduction over the last decade, indicating a slow pace of change. Such a slow rate of progress in addressing pay inequality suggests that while there may be awareness of the issue, effective measures to bridge the gap are either insufficient or not being implemented rigorously.

The gender pay gap in accounting does not exist in isolation; it is part of a larger pattern of inequality in the workplace. This includes not only disparities in salaries but also in opportunities for advancement, representation in senior roles, and access to key professional networks and resources. The underrepresentation of women in higher-paying, senior positions, often referred to as the “glass ceiling”, exacerbates the pay gap.

This gap is not merely a matter of fairness but also affects the industry’s ability to attract and retain talent. When potential employees see such disparities, it can deter talented individuals from joining or staying in the field, ultimately impacting the industry’s diversity, innovation, and competitiveness.

Addressing the gap requires transparent pay structures, regular pay audits to identify and address disparities, targeted mentorship and development programs for women, and a commitment to creating an inclusive culture that values and promotes diversity at all levels.

Networking and Mentorship

Networking and mentorship are fundamental tools for women in accounting, helping them navigate their careers, access opportunities, and develop professionally within a supportive community.

This is not about a place for women to go and burn their bras or whinge or whine about the men in their lives which is what most men think. It is about promoting a safe, non-judgemental, and open place to share, learn and grow and that unfortunately right now is not the workplace.

I never really understood why we need women only spaces as it defeats the object of inclusivity and equality but reading the superb article “let’s all fight back against workplace inequity” by Lucy Cohen I know fully get it.

“I travel alone a lot for business and, over the years, hadn’t fully realised the number of habits I have acquired to keep myself safe. I’m sure that many women reading this will have adopted a few of these themselves.

I’ve got the “don’t talk to me” headphones for all train journeys. I search out well-lit parking and will take any route on foot that is longer to avoid walking through an underpass alone. I’ll always book first class on a train when I travel at night because there is less chance of being bothered by the inebriated and it feels safer. I book into hotels with well-staffed receptions. Invariably, these things cost more money or take more time – is that the price of feeling safe as a woman navigating the world solo?

There are many other things that women do regularly, automatically, to try to feel safe. Walking back to a car with our keys between our fingers, pretending to talk on the phone when walking alone at night, carrying personal alarms, and avoiding walking in poorly lit areas. So many of us do all of this without thinking. All of this takes energy to do, and it’s evidence of how inequity seeps into all parts of our lives.

It would never occur to my husband to arrange his work travel around safety. Convenience, sure. Value for money, of course. But personal safety when travelling in the UK is something that doesn’t cross his mind. Yet most women will do the mental juggling and pay the extra money to make sure their journey is, first and foremost, safe. Most of us do it subconsciously. All of that takes energy that we’re not putting into something else.”

Women only networking and mentoring is partly about trying to feel safe. That makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. Is that how the women in my life are made to feel daily? Men take this for granted as we never need to make the dozens of decisions women must.

Why should this be needed in 2024? Lucy regularly writes for AccountingWeb. You only need to read through the comment sections on her articles to see that gender inequality is alive and kicking. Sad but true.

Networking and mentorship are vital for women in the accounting profession for several key reasons:

Career Advancement: Strong professional networks can open doors to new job opportunities and career advancements that might not be accessible through traditional avenues. Networking events, conferences, and seminars are platforms where professionals can connect with potential employers, mentors, or collaborators.

Mentorship Opportunities: Mentorship is particularly crucial in fields like accounting, where navigating the career landscape can be challenging. Experienced mentors can provide guidance, advice, and support to help women overcome professional hurdles and achieve their career goals. They can offer insights into career progression, work-life balance, and strategies for success in a predominantly male-dominated field.

Professional Development: Professional organisations often offer training sessions, workshops, and courses that are crucial for continuous professional development. These learning opportunities can help women in accounting stay current with their skills and knowledge, which is essential in a rapidly evolving industry.

Support and Empowerment: For women in accounting, having a network of peers and mentors can offer emotional and professional support. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which is important in an industry where women might sometimes feel isolated due to underrepresentation, especially in higher positions.

Advocacy for Gender Equality: Organisations like ACCA play a crucial role in advocating for gender equality in the accounting profession. They can influence policies and practices within the industry to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. This includes addressing issues like the gender pay gap, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and creating family-friendly workplace policies.

Building Confidence and Visibility: Networking and mentorship help in building confidence. They provide a platform for women to share their achievements, gain visibility, and establish themselves as experts in their field. This is crucial for breaking stereotypes and challenging the status quo in the accounting profession.

The Positive Impact of Gender Diversity

Gender diversity in the accounting profession brings substantial benefits, enhancing innovation and overall performance. Diverse teams offer varied perspectives, leading to more comprehensive and creative problem-solving. This diversity in thought and approach is crucial in a field that requires constant adaptation to changing regulations and market conditions. Companies with diverse leadership are often more attuned to their client base, enabling better service delivery.

Gender diversity can strengthen team dynamics, fostering a more inclusive and dynamic work environment, which is essential for attracting and retaining top talent. Such an environment not only benefits the workforce but also positively impacts the bottom line, as studies have shown a correlation between diverse leadership and improved business performance.

In a rapidly evolving market due to technological advancements such as AI we need a rounded view on how best to harness and implement that power as it comes with great responsibility. We need a diverse and evolving team to consider all angles.

Conclusion

Life as a man in 2024 is much simpler than being a woman. We only have to sit at the top of the privilege tree and throw shade at anyone trying to knock us of our perch. By being the ‘major’ breadwinner, then societal norms continue, and we maintain our rightful place as head of the table, and no one will notice that we don’t have much else to offer. 😉

It’s time for change. We are all different, but we are equal and deserve to be treated as such.

Maybe it’s being a Dad to a 14 year old girl who will soon be embarking on the world of work, perhaps it’s having a better understanding of what others endure but I cannot see a place going forward where it is acceptable for anyone to not feel safe, not feel valued and be paid less for doing the same job. You shouldn’t have to work harder and earn less money to prove that you are equal. That makes no sense.

Addressing gender inequality in the accounting profession is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity for the industry’s advancement and sustainability. The persistence of gender disparities, particularly in leadership roles, pay equity, and work-life balance, underlines the need for continued and intensified efforts towards creating a more inclusive and balanced industry.