Accounting profession needs to do more to attract and retain senior women

I read with interest an article in the recent edition of A Plus , the journal of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, about female accountants working for firms in Hong Kong and discussing the constraints on making it to the top as a woman. It didn’t surprise me to see phrases like ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘old boys club’ repeated in the article, but what did surprise me was the progress Hong Kong has made over the last few decades in promoting careers to women. Maria Tsang, a Partner at RSM Nelson Wheeler, the RSM member firm in Hong Kong, makes the point in the article that the idea of women having careers only became popular in Hong Kong from the 1980s. “That may explain why, even though female CPAs are just as talented as male counterparts, there are fewer currently in senior positions,” she says. There is undoubtedly a lot of truth in that, but there is also undoubtedly still issues within the profession that are hindering women from reaching the most senior levels.

I have always regarded the accounting profession as being a welcoming environment for women, but despite the number of women often outnumbering men in junior roles, at Partner level, women are still under represented. The focus on chargeable hours will always make it difficult for women who strive to maintain a work-life balance and who want to have both a family and a career.

So, what changes to working practices are firms making to help women deal with the jump that final hurdle?

According to the article, client-sharing is one solution to the problem which has been adopted by some Hong Kong firms. Another – though less welcome solution – is for women to leave the profession and work in-house, where the hours tend to be shorter than in accounting firms. I find the concept of client sharing interesting. Co-managing clients may present challenges of its own, but as long as clients are receptive to the idea, why shouldn’t it become more widespread?

With the number of women entering the accounting profession at an all-time high, and more firms adapting working practices to ensure that the investment they are making in their staff is maximised, the prospects for women in the profession have never been better.


Jean M Stephens
Chief Executive Officer