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December 12, 2013

Editor’s comment: Trying to have it all

Recently I was at an accounting conference where, on the final day, I arrived at breakfast later than most delegates and was sharing a table with some of the delegates’ companions.

One of the first questions I was asked by the two women sitting opposite me, both about 25 years my senior, was whose wife I was. I explained that I’d been one of the speakers at the conference the previous day and they seemed somewhat surprised.

They went on to say how, since graduating from university, both had decided against trying to have it all and dedicated their time to raising a family.

I didn’t feel offended or shocked by their surprise, or about the career choices they had made. However it did make me think that perhaps the very slow progress in getting women into top jobs does, more or less, boil down to the perceptions and values held by the generation currently occupying most of the management and middle-management roles in the corporate food chain.

While the voices at the top of most accounting and financial institutions are very encouraging on the subject of diversity, there are still many throughout different organisations who hold more conservative views towards female leaders or colleagues and team members of different races, sexual orientation or backgrounds to their own.

Speaking to KPMG UK’s senior partner and chairman Simon Collins for the UK survey he recalled the recent LGBT summit the firm hosted in its London offices where, in one of the sessions, the discussions turned to how, despite having a positive and encouraging tone at the top, you still have to get through the "permafrost layer of middle-management, which can be much more conservative".

He emphasised that those managers are not bad people, but they have narrower "metrics", which indicates that more needs to be done about awareness of such issues.

And those matrices are something many people have encountered at some point or another in their careers, and sometimes such encounters and prejudice can have an effect on an employee’s confidence and future career development.

Luckily many accounting firms have put increasing diversity at the core of their corporate strategy. However, still, in 2013 you only need to look at our Global Accounting Power 50 list to see the profile of top players in the profession, who are mostly white men.

Only eight women made it into our Power 50, up by one from 2012. All the people on the list are of course very deserving of their spot and many have dedicated their life’s work to the profession, and some are undoubtedly great champions of increasing diversity. But the profession still appears to have some way to go before it can be perceived as diverse and representative of society’s demographics.

Perhaps as the generations slowly change there will be a noticeable leap forward and people will stop talking about women trying to have it all, but enable them to have all they can have, naturally and professionally, just like their male peers.

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