Girls allowed: a fair deal for women in practice and business. By Louise Druce

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Despite a rise in the number of female accountants achieving senior positions in business, the boardroom is still percieved as almost exclusively a boys' club. It is a similar story in practice. Much of the time, the imbalance is unintentional. So what can businesses and firms do to create a level playing field for all employees?

The reasons why women still struggle to reach the top are myriad, but there are entrenched attitudes among male executives that still play a large part. When I became a partner I walked into my first meeting and one partner said: Oh great, you are here to make the coffee, bemoaned a female chartered accountant employed by one of the big four, who was interviewed for a survey by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).

If [some of the female senio...

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By neileg
28th Jun 2007 15:34

Not as simple as that
In many areas of business the 'macho culture' tends to discriminate against anyone regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. If you aren't 200% committed to work above all else, then there's something wrong with you. I've been aware of discrimination against staff serving with the TA. Why should you have a couple of weeks off work (never mind that the company doesn't pay) to go and play soldiers? Not sure how much more macho you can get that being under fire in Iraq in a burnt out Warrior!

The very concept of a work life balance is alien to some organisations, no matter what you choose to do in your side of the balance equation - it might be having babies, it might simply be chosing to be at home with your partner at a reasonable time of the evening.

OK, there's a spectrum of cultures and there may be a shift over time to more enlightened views, but to think that tackling sexism in isolation is the best way to go is missing the point, in my view.

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26th Jun 2007 12:22

Women need to change their attitudes
In 1970 I was the second female to be articled to a medium sized firm of Chartered Accountants in the City. I was only eighteen and it was very daunting. However, between us the other girl and I were able to convince our male counterparts that we were serious contenders. We did not try to compete with them, we joined the team. We contributed in our own way, our talents and abilities; we often experienced difficulties with “male chauvinist” clients, but we were never aggressive or argumentative. We were always polite, and I still find to this day that good manners open more doors than heavy-handedness. We passed our exams and progressed up the ladder without questioning our seniors’ judgment, and this too helped us to be assessed and judged more as members of the team than as a “minority group”. Yes, we may have been given the more difficult clients to contend with, but our very acceptance of this earned us respect, not criticism. I remember well a client who point blank refused to speak to me, the senior on the audit, and would answer my questions to the (male) junior – who did not understand the matters being discussed! In these situations you need a good sense of humour, and you work round the problem. The point I am making is this: I feel that many young women in accountancy today take an attitude towards their male colleagues which does not do them any favours. I now come across a type of businesswoman who is aggressive, dominating and determined to out-do “the men”. She is talented and has ability, but I would not want to employ her. And yes, she will probably want to take maternity leave in the next few years which would completely disrupt my practice. This is not a problem which is going to go away. But women need to be more relaxed in business, and to adopt an attitude which does not expect special favours simply because of gender. Top positions are earned by those who are truly suited to them, not just those who have the ability. I am sure that I will have said things which women find contentious, but as one of those who started out a long time ago and has managed to reach a senior position in business which commands the respect of many businessmen, I feel qualified to offer my advice on a situation which can only be improved by a change in attitude and a revision of values.

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By Anonymous
26th Jun 2007 11:40

It's not all one way traffic
As the ex-president of the World Bank would be able to attest to.

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25th Jun 2007 16:49

Can we do a call?
Rachel - I'd very much like to speak with you about your experience as this is an issue that I know is important. If you are prepared to speak then I can be contacted at dahowlett[at]gmail[dot]com


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By Anonymous
25th Jun 2007 14:32

Compromises sometimes required
There seems to be a common perception here that women are going to all go off and have babies. Not all do.

Is the anomosity to all that do down to covering their workload for a limited time? Would you feel the same if an absence for a male colleague was as long due to serious ill health?

There also seems to be a long-hours culture issue coming into play. Why is someone working shorter hours (and therefore often more alert) and having their pay proportionately reduced demonised?

I have been on lower pay than a male colleague who worked shorter hours, had poorer job stats and wasn't as qualified until I complained and my pay was put up. If I hadn't accidentally seen his pay figure I would never have known.

Sexism does exist in accountancy and switching to a system of complaints procedures (which if used will in a lot of cases affect your career prospects) isn't going to help. For anyone who watched the recent "sex[***], the city and me" I thought it a good reflection of how women "fit in" in the professions and how equality really hasn't reached us at all. Women who do make it through the system tend to be far harder against women than men are. The real choice for women is to do whatever it takes to fit in or make something on their own. I'm now a sole practitioner and have an extraordinarily high proportion of female business clients compared to every practice I have worked in. Maybe female only firms will be the future for ambitious women.

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By Anonymous
22nd Jun 2007 16:56

We are not all the same, we are all equal
A level playing field is precisely what is required. It is not always achieved by treating everyone in exactly the same way however. Mark St seems to suggest that women must make a straighforward choice between having children and having a career. An attitude last fashionable around 1950 I believe.

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22nd Jun 2007 17:06

You what?
Apart from the fact this is a retread of a piece already done by The Age - I cannot believe I'm reading this kind of macho, patronising BS from commenters. It typifies the utter failure of people to understand the dynamics that underpin inequality.

While on the subject, similar issues arise for blacks and asians. Their response, especially among the asian community, has been to establish their own practices.

There are women only legal practices, why not women only firms of CAs? If anyone knows of any I'd be delighted to hear from them.

Having said that - it's worth checking out greendotlife for an insight into the greasy pole problem.

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By Anonymous
22nd Jun 2007 14:54

Cloud cuckoo land, etc.
"..but it must be made clear that partnership can be a career choice that is able to be balanced with family life."

Ok, well find a firm (or company) that's prepared to have female partner (director) walk out one day saying: "Ta-ta guys, see you in a year after I've had the baby and settled it into nursery school. Actually, I may not come back. But if I do come back I want to walk straight back into my partner job and work flexi. Look, I'll call you, ok. "

Male greasy pole climbers are never allowed by society to 'balance their career with family life', or to insist their spot on the pole is reserved for them whilst they go off somewhere for a sabbatical or whatever. So why should females expect this?

You can't have your bun and your penny, nomatter how hard you try to impose 'enlightened' views on the real world.

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By Anonymous
22nd Jun 2007 15:35

It can be done
Surely the solution is to work towards achieving a situation where both men and women can balance work with home/family life - not to deprive women of the right to do so. Believing this to be an attainable goal is not 'cloud cuckoo land'.

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By Anonymous
22nd Jun 2007 16:09

Women don't want a level playing field
It seems to me that the last thing women want is a level playing field. They had it and they failed.

Women want and need a playing field that is severely tilted against men so they can mitigate their employment disadvantages and have a chance of playing.

Commercial organisations only survive by seeking advantage and demonstrate this with their chequebooks by hiring the people who give the best value - whatever the gender. That would be a level playing field.

Scandinavian countries recognise that women take more career breaks and retire earlier than men and it is the more valuable longer serving and committed people who get the top positions. In other enlightened and sophisticated societies these factors are recognised and accepted. Why not in this country?

That is a more level playing field.

Why should women be given costly employment advantages over men?

Isn't it wrong that this discrete and defined group should have draconian and fearful legislation to promote their interests at work to the detriment of their colleagues? For a hackneyed and trite example - example, a mother's absence to be with a newborn child, whilst laudable, is still an absence and will need to be covered (and paid for). Men don't have this requirement. Perhaps promotion should be dependent on a certificate of sterilisation? Sorry, women can't have it all.

Work - Life balance? Women should stop whinging. One can hear the wining about difficulties and complaints in this article. Get out of the kitchen if you can't (or are not prepared to) take the heat. In any case, stop whinging and take responsibility for your choices.

Macho? Yes - we need the masculine and we need to be proud of it - and not accept the shame that women seek to ascribe to masculinity.

Can one bear to imagine the outrage and shame meted out if men were discriminated for in the same way that women are? Deafening I expect.

What is it about women that makes them so unattractive to employ that they have to have such prejudicial and discriminatory legislation just so they can get a job next to a man?

We all need to accept that we are not all equal. We are wonderfully diverse.

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