Accountancy glass ceiling as thick as ever

2008

Women make up barely a fifth of the top tier of accountants in the U.S, suggesting there is still a long way to go before the profession is fully opened up.

A investigation by the Illinois CPA Society (or certified public accountants) into the gender split at partner and principal level in the profession, found that more than eight out of 10 partners or principal positions were men, against just over 17 per cent who were women.

But the trend, at least, is going in the right direction, it argued. The number of women in firm-wide leadership roles, firm or office managing partners and executive management roles had risen to 17 per cent, after remaining in the 10 to 13 per cent range for the past five years.

"The next generation of leaders will come from the ranks of recent accounting graduates in which women outnumber men," said Elaine Weiss, president and CEO of the Illinois CPA Society.

"What the findings say is that more widespread implementation of programs for women is needed if the profession wants to improve these numbers and prepare for the future," she added.

Flexible working arrangements, mentoring programmes, family leave policies and paid time off were all seen as key when it came to encouraging more women to aspire to the top.

Yet initiatives such as child-care assistance and women-specific mentoring programmes to develop women as partners on high-profile clients and part-time partner track, a programme where women choose a part-time schedule, were only in place at 27 to 33 per cent of the firms surveyed, it found.

The wider implications of this gender split are clear when you consider that a background in accounting is often key to making the move into a chief finance officer position, which in turn is often the best springboard to chief executive.

British research earlier this month by recruitment firm Robert Half of chief executives in the UK FTSE-100 and Standard & Poor's Global 100 suggested that UK CEOs were more likely to come from a financial background than their global rivals.

Nearly four out of 10 UK CEOs had taken some sort of finance-based career path to the top, against slightly more than a quarter of S&P CEOs.