Pledge for parity in the accounting industry

I was recently asked by The Accountant for my views on whether the accountancy industry is still a white, male-dominated space. As today is International Women’s Day, I thought it would be timely to share my response.

As with many white-collar professions, there is the perception in the accounting industry that the majority of employees are white and male, as they were in previous generations. Although we have made some marked progress worldwide, and there are more women in the profession overall, as the only female CEO of a top ten global accounting network, I am conscious that there is still much to be done to further diversity.

The business world has seen a step forward through an increase in the number of women achieving senior positions in FTSE 100 companies. Success can be seen across the field as all FTSE 100 company boards now have women on them. Whilst this is significantly better than 2010, we still have far to go. Women now make up 60% of accountants and auditors, and more than 50% of the ACCA student body.

These figures are encouraging, as is the continued take up of STEM subjects at universities by women, but mentoring and support (including financial initiatives) must be provided by firms, professional bodies and governments in order to support less impressive retention rates at the higher echelons of the industry. For this reason, I support the new target set by Lord Davies of 33% of women board members at FTSE 350 firms by 2020, as the most impactful way for the UK Government to start breaking down the barriers facing women in business. Only when women are seen to match men in the boardroom can cultures around women in business start to change and impact the next generation.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), we are mindful that while targets are beneficial, more can be achieved if women around the world each try to enable change wherever we can. The IWD campaign this year is the ‘Pledge for Parity’ – encouraging women to make their own commitment to making a difference, and to be a leader within their own sphere of influence. As IWD points out, this is necessary to speed our progress towards gender parity, which the World Economic Forum estimates won’t be achieved until 2133 at the current rate of progress.

At RSM, we believe that diversity in both the workplace and the boardroom is crucial for company success and a broader vision. As an international organisation, it is imperative that our employees represent the countries which we work in and the clients we work with. Understanding the culture and climate in which we operate certainly helps us to understand our clients. While the accounting profession is still dominated by males in many parts of the world, we have seen an increase in the need for greater diversity. However, more can and must be done across our profession to ensure that equality is upheld as a necessity for success. We must not let unconscious societal prejudice and expectation prevent women from realising their full potential and slow our progress towards higher diversity in our businesses and boardrooms.

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Jean M Stephens
Chief Executive Officer