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Business woman working late AccountingWEB Four in five women feel pressure to overperform at work
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80% of women feel pressure to overperform at work

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Caba’s recent research reveals the ongoing challenges that women face in the workplace, such as difficulty setting boundaries, reluctance to take time off and feeling pressure to overperform. Caba suggests steps that organisations should take to make the accounting profession more inclusive. 

28th Mar 2024
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New research from caba (Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association), the occupational charity supporting ICAEW chartered accountants, highlights the importance of creating a more inclusive environment for women in accounting. They surveyed over 200 female chartered accountants in the UK to understand their experiences within the profession. 

Despite women making up almost half (45%) of accountants in the UK, challenges and barriers persist that need to be addressed and tackled. 

Ola Opoosun, head of support services at caba, looked at the issues women are facing, what is holding them back and what firms need to do to change this.

Continuous challenges 

In caba’s survey, they shared that 62% of female accountants reported experiencing regular feelings of self-doubt about their abilities within the role. When asked how this impacts them at work, 26% reported a heightened fear of failure, 27% experienced increased stress and 29% felt that they must always be perfect. 

Alongside this, it was also reported that 47% of female accountants are uncomfortable having open and transparent conversations with their managers. They didn’t feel like they could talk about areas they struggle with and where they need more training. 

Opoosun said that these findings show the significant challenges that continue to persist for women in the accounting profession. 

“The industry still has some way to go if it’s to become a truly inclusive space for women. Many female chartered accountants are struggling with a lack of confidence in their role and this, in addition to other factors such as gender bias and a lack of representation at a senior level, is stopping them from reaching their full potential,” she said.

Rachel Harris, founder of accountant.she shared her own experiences when she began her career as a chartered accountant. “I remember being told that I had ‘too much personality’. I struggled to fit into the mould of how an accountant was supposed to look and behave, and this led to the feeling that I didn’t belong. I witnessed women around me trying to blend into the status quote, even taking off their wedding rings during interviews,” Harris said. 

She added, “Since starting my own accountancy firm, I’ve had the opportunity to break down these stereotypes and create a safe space where everyone can be themselves, regardless of their gender. As a result, I’m now surrounded by role models who I look up to – whether that’s a working mum or someone who feels they can stand up and ask for help or training without fear of looking weak.”

Tall poppy syndrome 

Caba shared that a lot of women experience the tall poppy syndrome, the belief that self-confidence at work can be detrimental to progression and not wanting to be perceived as too ambitious. 40% of female accountants said they’re uncomfortable telling their colleagues and managers about their achievements at work and a staggering 80% felt like they have to work harder than others to prove their worth, but still find it uncomfortable celebrating their successes. 

Lucy Cohen, founder of Mazuma, advised ways to get over the tall poppy syndrome in her article on dealing with success. She said, “Accept that there are some people who simply can’t be happy for another’s success. Learn to self-validate.”

Cohen continued, “You worked hard to achieve your own type of success. Don’t let anyone else take the shine off that for you.”

Lack of work-life balance 

Due to women’s experiences within the accounting industry, many find it hard to achieve a work-life balance. In a shocking finding, nearly 90% of women frequently compromise their work-life balance to meet the demands of the workplace. 85% also revealed that they struggled to set boundaries at work in relation to their time, workload or personal priorities. 

“We are seeing a rising number of women putting their own needs on the back burner, with two in five (41%) revealing that on more than one occasion, they’d not taken annual leave because they worry about handing over tasks,” reported Opoosun. 

She said, “With women seen as more likely to carry a disproportionate amount of childcare and household work, a lack of work-life balance can take its toll on both mental and physical wellbeing – leading to a greater risk of burnout. Without flexible working practices, having time to invest in themselves and find purpose outside of work, we risk forcing women out of the profession.”

Call for action 

Caba emphasised the importance for organisations to prioritise inclusive initiatives that foster women’s success in the accounting profession.

Opoosun said that investing in practices that specifically empower women to gain confidence can drive real change towards gender equality, creating a better workplace for everyone. 

Caba came up with initiatives that organisations should look at implementing: 

  • flexible working arrangements 
  • regular feedback and recognition from managers 
  • relevant training and development programmes
  • understanding what their employees need and implementing appropriate initiatives as a result of that 
  • mentorship programmes 
  • track the success of initiatives using measurable tactics.

“We urge employers to reflect on the strategies and resources highlighted by many of the women who participated in our study and ensure that they’re doing everything they can to support and empower their female employees,” Opoosun said.