The accounting sector must adopt a “proactive” approach to gender equality


High-level figures say a number of new diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are helping the accounting industry improve gender equality.

According to Sharon Spice, global director of marketing, brand and membership at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), the industry is “very proactive” in closing the gap.

“Many of our member firms are changing their policies and offering support to women to help them advance in their careers,” she said, citing some recent examples.

“Deloitte has family-friendly policies in place to support people with family responsibilities, PwC has mentorship programs in place to provide access to role models and support women in developing their skills, and KMPG has set gender goals for leadership positions to counter gender stereotypes and biases.”

Spice also mentioned that the ICAEW and many of their member companies have signed the Charter for Women in Finance. In addition, they also chair Chartered Accountants Worldwide Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which emphasizes gender equality in the profession by understanding barriers to progress and taking steps to remove them.

Room for improvement

Findings from the Top 50 + 50 Accountancy Age report found that although business leaders remain predominantly male, the percentage has risen from 87% to 76% in 2020 and that nearly half of those working in the sector are identified as female.

“At more junior levels we are approaching gender balance and our numbers of female students have increased over the past decade. However, we know there is a growing gap at higher levels as women do not not always progress to higher positions at the same rate or leave the profession entirely, Spice said.

However, Natalie Hannan, senior talent manager at Moore Kingston Smith (MKS), believes the fight for women is more at entry levels than in leadership positions.

She also noted that family obligations are another key reason the industry has kept women out of higher positions.

“In the past, many conversations about progression and skills took place after work, in a more social environment that some women may have had a harder time participating in because they had other responsibilities, family responsibilities,” Hannan said.

“While people who don’t have as much responsibility do their jobs and socialize, then they have these conversations, build relationships, build their network with customers maybe in a different way, and that probably had a little impact.”

Level the playing field

In an effort to make hiring practices fairer, MKS has adopted a new hiring platform called Applied, which allows companies to hire candidates anonymously.

Khyati Sundaram, CEO of Applied, says hiring processes are riddled with biases that put women at a disadvantage, starting with the gendered language used in job postings. Their research showed how masculine code words such as “motivated” and “individual,” often associated with leadership positions, can deter female candidates by up to 10 percent.

“We’ve seen how the right solutions can level the playing field for women, and indeed for all candidates.”

According to Sundaram, anonymous applications and structured interviews that assess applicants based on their skills can increase female hires by up to 300%. And, if stripped of human bias and carefully implemented, AI can be used to remove gendered language from job ads, increasing the number of female applicants by up to 54%.

After adopting unbiased hiring processes, MKS saw female hires increase by 74%.

According to ICAEW’s Spice, there are a number of other reasons that could contribute to women progressing more slowly or leaving the profession altogether, such as combating gender stereotypes and biases, difficulties in accessing to female role models, working hours that do not allow for family responsibilities. , as well as difficulties in accessing resources and training.

Spice also mentioned the impacts caused by significant life events such as menopause and his increased risk of medical problems or fertility issues, which often coincides with prime-time career progression in the 1930s and 1930s. 40.

“ICAEW additionally provides several resources on career progression and women’s health,” Spice said.

Among their initiatives, they run a Women in Leadership program with a strong focus on personal development that supports female members in senior leadership, partner or board roles.

“Our Women in Finance community was created to provide networking and personal development opportunities to enable women working in finance to reach their full potential.”

Target gender equality

Jackie Henry, Managing Partner – People and Goals at Deloitte (UK), thinks another way to help close the gap is to set goals.

“We believe that goals are key to driving change and fostering a sense of accountability.”

Goals should be ambitious but realistic, and progress against them should be closely monitored and reported, according to Henry.

“We have a target of 40% female partners by 2030,” she says. “Since setting our target and introducing our gender balance action plan, the representation of women at partner level has increased from 14% in 2014 to 25% today.”

Other initiatives in Deloitte’s gender balance action plan include support for return to work; sponsorship, mentoring and development opportunities; a range of support for working parents; and active monitoring of the talent pool.

Henry also pointed out that through their Return to Work Assistance Program, more women are returning to work after maternity leave – 91% in 2021 compared to 68% in 2012.


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