Male accountants slam female-friendly policies

Feb 12 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Nine out of 10 male accountants believe they have been adversely affected by attempts to create a more favourable working environment for women and many believe that women are being promoted when they do not deserve to be.

But the depth of the resentment felt by male accountants comes despite the fact that three-quarters also believe that women in accountancy are hampered by a persistent glass ceiling.

These contrasting attitudes emerged from "Battle of the Sexes?", a report published by audit recruitment specialists which argues that the poor representation of women at the top levels of the accountancy profession is more to do with work-life balance than it is discrimination in the workplace.

Most tellingly, two-thirds of all the those who took part in the survey said that the demands of being a partner in accounting firms makes it impossible for women to raise a family and is the major reason why so few women make it to the top.

For all the talk of flexible working, more than a third (37 per cent) believe that it is a myth, with a quarter (23 per cent) believing that it does exist - though not in their company.

In all, six out of 10 respondents believe that being an accountant harms their personal life, with almost a quarter admitting to missing important family and social events due to work commitments.

Yet women's lack of success in breaking through the glass ceiling is not for lack of ambition. Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of female respondents see their career objective as climbing the corporate ladder as far possible Ė a figure that barely differs from that of men (24 per cent).

And while about half of all male and female respondents have aspirations to make it to partner-level, twice as many men (22 per cent) put money as their main career objective compared to women (10 per cent).

However the sexes were united by the search for happiness, with more than four out of 10 citing this, rather than money, as their top career objective.

The survey also highlighted the phenomenon whereby women underestimate their own suitability for leadership roles because they cast themselves as better at stereotypically feminine "caretaking skills" such as supporting and rewarding.

Not a single female respondent believed that women are better equipped to be leaders than men, even though two per cent of male respondents believe women's skills are more suited to this role.

In contrast almost six out of 10 male respondents felt that men make better leaders than women; a sentiment shared by three out of 10 women.

Max Williamson, CEO at Careers in Audit, said that the findings raised important questions.

"Initiatives to give greater opportunities to women appear to be resented by men, while many women who want to get to the top appear to be short of confidence in their own leadership skills.

"There is a lot of work to be done within the profession to iron out the mistrust, misunderstandings and differences of perception that currently exist between the sexes."

He added that there ought to be no reason why making it to the top in accountancy should be so incompatible with raising a family. Solutions could be found, he argued, if both senior management and female employees are willing to bend.

"Practically speaking, senior managers need to take the lead and voice genuine support for such policies. They must create an environment in which women do not feel ostracised for having a family.

"We estimate that Europe needs an extra 50,000 auditors so it's clear that companies need to attract, retain and promote as many women as possible to maintain standards. Those companies that provide support for women will reap the benefits in better staff retention and lower recruitment costs."