ICAEW Executive Director, Commercial, Sharron Gunn, talks about what the accountancy profession is doing to support women on boards
When I started out in chartered accountancy 25 years ago, it was rare to see high-ranking women in the profession. That’s no longer the case – but we’ve still got some way to go before women really break the accountancy glass ceiling.
In terms of salaries, the gender pay gap is smallest for ICAEW Chartered Accountants under 30*, but it widens even further in the critical years when chartered accountants reach partnership, senior management and board positions.
On the one hand, it’s great news that we are seeing more women on boards (at 20.7%) which is a leap from where we were in 2011. It raises hopes that the UK government’s target of 25% female board membership by 2015 may be reached without mandatory quotas. But we shouldn’t be complacent. More and more women are determined to make it to the top of their field. But they are frustrated by the pay gap and by their prospects. They want it to be a level-playing field in all sectors and sizes of organisation.
The case for more women on boards
There’s a strong economic case for retaining the best talent and promoting diversity. Having a diverse board, represented by women and men who come from different social and ethnic backgrounds is important for business. They represent a diverse customer base. These are the people who will lead the profession to new heights and will enable it to do what it does best – helping organisations succeed and grow sustainably.
Businesses need to recognise their talent and ambition and make the changes that will help working women succeed. Organisations must focus on the medium and longer-term pipeline development of women so that there are sufficient of them available and skilled to join boards in the future.
What is the accountancy profession doing to support women?
At ICAEW, we’ve been working with our members and major employers to attract women into the accountancy profession. One thing is quite subtle – it’s actually about recruiting the right people, whatever their gender and background, by widening access into the profession. That is why there are a number of different routes into studying the ACA.
In careers’ sessions for students and young people we talk the ACA’s flexibility as a qualification, where you can work in business, in practice, or self-employed. Not only that, we also see women who turn to accountancy in their ‘second career’.
We have a number of leadership development programmes, returner-to-work schemes, mentoring support, business networks and special interest groups. Our leadership programme has been particularly successful, with over 100 female execs taking part and we’re now taking this internationally.
Women must take action too
If companies do not support professional development, we are urging women to take action to introduce better development, or simply pursue development opportunities outside their job. Training with professional bodies can help anybody prepare for their next move with access to learning programmes and networking opportunities.