It was entirely coincidental but just ahead of International Women’s Day last week, I attended a course intended to raise awareness about unconscious bias.
The fact that the accountancy profession is faring badly when it comes to gender equality is well documented and it can only be a matter of time before an individual firm or possibly the industry as a whole is subjected to criticism followed by severe embarrassment at our failure to project women into senior roles.
Although GT bucked the trend for a period, at present none of the major firms has a woman running the show, while I have little doubt that almost all still have a massive preponderance of male equity partners despite protestations that they are doing their best to redress the balance.
These days, firms are very much attuned to the potential difficulties arising if they do not make a fuss about what they are doing to promote the cause of women. The problem is that, unless I’m missing something, their words and their deeds do not seem too closely aligned.
I’m quite prepared to accept that many firms, small, large and everything in between, have managed to reach a position where junior professional staff are fairly evenly split between male and female.
The problem comes at the extremes. Most of the administrative and support staff are likely to be females earning relatively little, while senior posts are still overwhelmingly held by men raking in most of the firms’ profits. Positive discrimination sounds good in theory but in practice seems to have had little effect beyond giving some women an opportunity to reach junior managerial status more quickly.
It pains me to suggest that there may well be quite a bit of inbuilt reluctance to allow women to reach top roles. There is every chance that in the fullness of time this imbalance will change naturally. However, that may be too late to help those who have already hit the glass ceiling.
I would be willing to bet that if you could look into the hearts of mature equity partners (including some females) up and down the country, you would discover a number of unspoken viewpoints.
- Hiring and promoting women is a mistake because they might get pregnant.
- You can’t have female partners with children as they will never be fully committed.
- Women have less stamina than men and will not work as hard.
- Clients will be reluctant to work with female partners.
- Younger women might not be safe in the company of some of our clients.
The unconscious bit of the bias is something that really should be addressed much more directly by every firm in the country, with the assistance of professional bodies.
About The Imprudent Accountant
Someone who should know better, but can't resist the occasional rant about the more exasperating aspects of the accountancy profession.