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The Student Insider

Women in accountancy - are the numbers adding up?


Written by
Chris Zacharia

Even today, accountancy tends to be perceived as a masculine profession. 

Students doing accounting

It’s no surprise. The profession’s stereotypical characteristics - logical number crunching, lots of computing and little emotion - are often considered more traditionally male than female. These stereotypes can make it harder for women to imagine themselves in or apply for accountancy roles. This problem is compounded by a lack of women in senior accountancy roles.

If I were to see more women partners and women higher up, it would make me think I can do that as well.

Yet in recent years the profession has made big strides towards gender equality. According to figures from the seven main professional bodies within accountancy (ACA, ACCA, CAI, CIPFA, CIMA, ICAEW, ICAS), over the past two decades the number of female students enrolled across all bodies has increased. By 2017, 49% of students at the seven combined bodies were female.

Some bodies are actually disproportionately female. ACCA reported that 57% of its currently enrolled students are female. Given that these students will form the next generation of accountants, this bodes well for gender equality in the future.

As 2019 marks the centenary since the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, it’s a good time to take stock of how far accountancy has come - and how far the profession still has to go. A century ago, women could not join professional accounting bodies because of their gender. Now, they’re beginning to reach numerical parity.

Despite such progress, the same old obstacles remain. A 2016 report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) surveyed female accountants to find out more about their perceptions of the profession. Most of the women questioned (57%) admitted to seeing accountancy as a male-dominated field.

“It’s the whole perception of men in finance,” explained one participant. “That kind of thing I think you have grown up with…the perception of business ‘men’ in the city, and knowing that [in finance] women and men are not equal.”

The report also uncovered concerns about childcare and maternity leave, indicating that accountancy hasn’t yet done enough to help women progress in their careers without compromising on their families.

“Issues arise around maternity leave and child care that affect women more than men…(women) struggle with juggling their maternity leave, having to leave early after having children and feeling, perhaps being held back,” said one participant.

So what might help women to feel welcome in accountancy? More role models would be a great start. Since women are under-represented in the upper echelons of the profession, it makes it harder for young women to aspire to reach the top.

I think it is a flexible job as well, you could do it from home and anywhere, really.

As one of the ICAEW report’s participants explains, “If I were to see more women partners and women higher up, it would make me think I can do that as well, rather than mainly seeing men in those roles.”

Although there’s still a long way to go, these latest findings show that there’s plenty of cause for optimism. For a start, the report shows that accountancy has plenty of attractive aspects for women. Strong job security, flexibility, and the international power of the ACA qualifications were all cited on the ICAEW report as appealing qualities.

“I think it is a flexible job as well, you could do it from home and anywhere, really,” one participant said. “You could work abroad and those kind of options would be appealing.”

There are so many good reasons to get into accountancy. The industry must do everything it can to reverse the long-term, historical forces that have made entering and succeeding within the accountancy profession so difficult for women.

The University of London’s Global MBA offers specialist accountancy modules that can help you succeed, regardless of gender. Moreover, the Global MBA is officially accredited by CIMA and CMI, and these bodies are at the forefront of the fight to make accountancy gender neutral.

Find out more about how University of London’s Global MBA can help you to succeed in accountancy.