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Published 16 October 2012 05:35, Updated 17 October 2012 05:51
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 49 per cent of all accountants are women, but while more women are entering the accounting profession they still aren’t rising to the top.
In the top 100 accounting firms by revenue, there are 2404 equity partners. Of those just 11.5 per cent (277) are women.
This is the outcome of BRW’s Top 100 Accounting firms 2011-12 survey, which is due out in November (see Top 100 accounting firms 2010-11 from last year here).
It’s a sad statistic, given that Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 49 per cent of all accountants are women. So while more women are entering the accounting profession, they still aren’t rising to the top.
Presumably because it takes time to make partner and by their early-to-mid 30s, women are off having babies. It’s also partly the result of the way professional services firms are structured and the associated conservative culture.
Most accounting firms still operate under partnership structures and many have good will models – that’s where partners buy into a firm and cash out when they leave. This traditional model recently came under question, when BDO’s combined Victorian-NSW practice – with 68 partners and 500 staff – was turfed out of the BDO international network.
While there are benefits to goodwill models, it has a big disadvantage: it can make it hard to attract young talent and especially make it hard for women.
Women simply aren’t prepared to put their family house on the line, not to mention endless after-work hours away from their children, to try to make partner. Accountants typically don’t make partner until well into their 30s and by this time both men and women have big financial and personal ties and don’t necessarily want to stump up a large amount to join a firm.
Some regional firms are trying to address this problem by introducing more flexible working hours but most firms still fail to pay attention, especially those that have traditional models.
There also seems to be a cultural reluctance among smaller firms to appoint women to equity partner positions. Unfortunately many accounting networks are still predominantly made of blokes and run by blokes, so it’s less likely for females to get noticed.
While firms across the board are achieving poor results in terms of diversity, the smaller firms are showing they are less likely to strive for diversity than larger firms.
BRW’s top 100 survey shows at PwC, 17.1 per cent of equity partners are female (77 females out of total of 450 equity partners) and Ernst & Young has 15.1 per cent female equity partners (64 females out of 425).
If you take the top 20 largest accounting firms in the country 14 per cent are female, which is slightly higher than 11.5 per cent for the top 100.
But compared with other industries, accountants are less diverse. Law firms have only slightly higher numbers, with 21.6 per cent female partners at top law firms but are still doing better than the bean counters in attempting to strive for diversity.
Breaking down the data by the type of accounting firm shows still poorer numbers. At male-dominated insolvency firms, women made up just 4 per cent of partners (five out of a total of 125) at the four major boutiques.
Firms such as Ernst & Young and McGrathNicol are now focusing on addressing the dismal representation of women at the top by increasing their graduate intakes to ensure equal numbers of both sexes.
While Ernst & Young is leading the field in gender diversity, it’s not yet reached its goal of 25 per cent female partners and 40 per cent executive directors by June 2014.
Ernst & Young chief executive Rob McLeod is one of the few men in the accounting profession voicing concerns on the lack of women in professional services. For McLeod though, it’s not just about paying lip service but setting specific targets and policies.
He has previously stated: “The name of the game is about improvement, not a balance sheet.”
It would be grand if more men in professional services firms realised this.
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