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International Women's Day 2016: Professional Services from a Women's Perspective - news article image

International Women's Day 2016: Professional Services from a Women's Perspective

7 Mar 2016

3 minute read

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. This has made me think about my own experiences over a 35 year career and how they have mirrored (or not) general patterns in the accountancy industry.

I joined Ernst and Whinney (EY) in 1981. From memory about a third of the graduate intake were women and at that time there were a few female managers dotted about the firm but no partners. The ICAEW record some 5% female trainee intake in the 1970s so this seems about appropriate for a big firm in the 1980s. Nowadays nearly 50% of those joining the profession are women and some 23% of partners. I do not recall any gender bias within the firm although we certainly encountered plenty of casual sexism while out on audit at client premises. I was shocked therefore when the first time I missed an expected promotion was when I was pregnant with my first child.

Fast forward to the late 90s when I joined Shaw & Co as a manager. At that time it was a three partner firm (all male). There were two female managers, no part-time professional staff, and no one had ever been on maternity leave and then returned to pursue a career. Two more men were made a partner before the first woman. Most memorably, when I joined the firm the dress code forbade women from the wearing of trousers to the office!

The firm merged with Edmund Gibbs in 2007 to become Shaw Gibbs and they seem to have been a bit more enlightened. Their first female partner was appointed in the mid-1990s and Angela Caiger had been the first female partner in any accountancy practice in Oxfordshire with Wellers in the mid-1980s.

In the insolvency practice Hayley Simmons made history when she became the youngest qualified insolvency practitioner at 27.

Things are different today.

At Shaw Gibbs we are committed to equal opportunities and fully support the development of all female employees. Recruitment has been on an equal basis for many years as have salaries but today we can see the progression through the firm. We have 17 staff at manager level, 11 of whom are female. Two of the four newly appointed directors are also female. Working hours are far more flexible and it is now possible for young women to take their full entitlement to maternity leave and be confident that they will be welcomed back on a flexible package. We have two full-time members of staff with children under 10 and 10 part-timers with children in the same age bracket. While it is a mark of progression to be able to offer this degree of flexibility to staff, it is noticeable that there are no men who have taken a similar career track. We have no part-time male staff and no man has ever yet taken their full entitlement to paternity leave.

Do we still have a gender pay gap? Undoubtedly yes. And as with the rest of the profession this is a reflection of part-time working being gender biased rather than an inequality of pay per job. The ICAEW report a gender pay gap across the profession which starts when people reach the age of 35 to 40. In Business it arises because there are fewer women at board level and more women in the traditionally lower paid sectors of not for profit and education. In Practice both Deloittes and PwC report gender pay gaps in the region of 16%.

On 8 March 1914 Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested during a march for suffrage to Trafalgar Square. We are nearing the centenary of the first female chartered accountant who was accepted into the Institute in 1919. Interestingly she was 72 and had been running an accountancy practice since 1888 but had been constantly excluded from joining the Institute until changes in law made this possible. I think it is good for all of us to think occasionally about those women who fought to make our current careers a possibility.

This week we are running a focus group for all the women in the firm to celebrate International Women’s Day. This is a first for us and I very much hope that we will make it a success.

International Women's Day 2016: Professional Services from a Women's Perspective - news article image


Lorna Watson

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