It may come as a surprise, but in a profession many still consider to be a man’s world, women now represent the clear majority of accountants in a certain number of countries. Within ACCA itself, approximately half of ACCA’s students are female, as are over 40% of members.
Statistics show that in regions such as Asia Pacific, and the developing world in particular, the vast majority of entrants into the accountancy profession are now very much tipped in favour of females. The growing numbers of women accountants and their ever growing influence is perhaps most keenly evident among ACCA students and members in Singapore, where a staggering 75% are estimated to be female.
Grant Thornton International research has found that the Philippines has the greatest percentage of women in senior management (47%), compared to the global average of less than a quarter. The International Labor Organization also says the ratio of women to men in executive jobs in the Philippines is the highest in the world.
The Department of Labor and Employment’s Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics for Filipino women has echoed this phenomenon, noting that women have steadily been outnumbering men in executive positions in recent years. There are more female than male professionals in accountancy, where approximately 69% are female.
In Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants reports that over a quarter of its current membership is female and that number is growing – while the gender breakdown is 50/50 among its accounting students. In the UK, chairmen of top companies including HSBC and Centrica have set up The 30% Club, which aims to help appoint more women to boardrooms – and agreed a voluntary target of 30% women on their boards by 2015.
cracks in the glass ceiling?
Many expect that, during the next decade female accountants will rise to ‘numerical dominance’ in the global profession. Whether they also rise to prominence in terms of position and power remains to be seen, because, although women’s progress in the profession is evident, it cannot exactly be described as rapid.
That said, many countries can predict trends in their own backyard from what is currently happening in the US, where women are now beginning to move into management and professional occupations at a faster rate than ever before. According to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, women are even dominating some of the jobs that have traditionally been held by men.
The Bureau says that accounting and tax preparation positions now skew noticeably towards a female bias. It also cites accountants and auditors as 61.8% female, tax preparers as 65.9% female and tax examiners and collectors as
73.8% female. Perhaps more surprising, women are taking over many financial jobs that are often perceived as male-dominated. They comprise 54.7% of financial managers and 59.3% of budget analysts.
Caren Goldberg, a management professor at American University’s business school in Washington DC, says the sharp increase of female business school graduates – a 75% jump in the last decade – is driving more women into these jobs. In the US, women now receive three Bachelor’s degrees for every two earned by men, and they are graduating in near equal numbers and received 44% of MBAs in 2007.
Estelle James, associate director for Robert Half Management Resources, says: ‘While the accountancy profession is still disproportionately male, there are more women entering the profession and assuming roles with increasing responsibility. Christine Lagarde’s recent appointment as head of the IMF reinforces this and is further evidence that women can vie for the top job in any organisation.’
McCarthy adds: ‘There are some fantastic female professionals working in finance who add real value to their organisations. However, figures show women account for just 12.5% of the directors sitting on FTSE 100 company boards, and this falls to 7.5% in the FTSE 250, which demonstrates the fact there is some way to go before women are better represented on boards.
‘Diversity can add real value to businesses and having a better representation of women on the board is seen as a key part of this. While many employers understand these benefits the challenge they now face is changing the perception of what goes on in the boardroom in order to attract female leaders into such senior roles.’
what women want
Many reports also find women are actually more likely to be working abroad, while men are more likely to state they want to work abroad.
Women consider many of the same things that men do when they look to move jobs – for example, assessing growth and looking at share prices. However, the culture of an organisation and the environment tends to be much more important to women.
While range of interesting work often tops the list of key motivators for female accountants, flexible working arrangements are considered a top priority.
Other chief aspects likely to attract female accountants abroad include global market, perceived safety, political stability, cultural fit, language barriers, climate and leisure activities.
Because most women tend to remain primary parents and take on the majority of household responsibilities, well-paid professional jobs that allow flexibility to handle their family needs are ‘very appealing’, but pay alone is generally not regarded as important to women as their male colleagues.
weighing up the benefits
Women are often choosing positions within the financial sector that are perceived to be more flexible and friendly towards women. Firms such as Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers are now offering innovative solutions for parents, including flexible scheduling, reduced hours and on-ramping assistance after family leave. These solutions will undoubtedly mean the field will begin to look even more attractive for women going forward.
Chris McCarthy, director of Hays Senior Finance, says: ‘Women aren’t afraid to say no to a job if they feel that they would not be valued or be able to be themselves. They trust themselves to network and do their research in order to understand what a company is all about before they join. Many of the senior women I have worked with are able to identify the organisations who just want a token woman and naturally don’t want to work there.’
Surveys often find that many female accountants are generally pursuing careers within the government and voluntary as well as media and entertainment industries, where they can represent up to half of workers – possibly as a result of the flexible working and work-life balance that these sectors are more likely to afford.