Women in Finance – Improving Gender Diversity

The finance and accountancy sectors are typically associated with a certain stereotype, and the gender pay gap has received bad press in recent years. However, accountancy firms are making inroads to improve gender equality within finance, and we have seen changes to working patterns and expectations of those in senior positions within the sector. Women are being encouraged to progress to Partnership and Directorship level within finance practices and although there are still improvements to be made, it is clear that as a sector we are moving in the right direction.

By law, companies, charities and organisations in the public sector of 250 employees or more are required to publish their gender pay gap figures. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said that enforcing companies to report their pay gaps is not enough to eliminate pay disparities – they have argued that employers also need to publish their action plans with specific deadlines and targets alongside the data.

Historically the corporate world has been dominated by a certain stereotype, which has received a high level of bad press in recent years. The BBC were the first broadcaster to publish their gender pay gap in 2017 which showed a median gap of 9.3% and by 2019, they had reduced this gap to 6.7%. Due to the bad press surrounding the subject, companies are improving their diversity and inclusion offering and are working towards becoming more responsible about gender equality. The HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter has been signed by more than 350 firms employing over 880,000 people, covering banks, insurance companies, investment firms and accountancy practices, as well as the ICAEW. Signatories commit to supporting the progression of women into senior roles in the finance sector by focusing on the executive pipeline and mid-tier level, and publicly reporting their progress in meeting those targets. The ICAEW, for example, has committed to having 40% women in senior management by March 2020, and two of the Big 4 have achieved gender parity with 50% women on the UK boards of EY and KPMG. With businesses under the spotlight, there has undoubtedly been an emphasis in recent years on encouraging women to progress into senior positions within the finance and accountancy sector, with many practices providing leadership training and coaching for individual development.

In the audit and accounting sectors, just because you make Partner level this no longer means that a healthy work-life balance is unrealistic. The focus is on the quality of work and you are not expected to be in all hours of the day, and we are increasingly seeing accountancy practices offering working from home and flexible working policies to fit around school hours and term time.  With this, the expectations of being a Partner in practice are gradually changing too. At Pro-Finance, we are speaking to more and more female Partners and Directors who are working 3-4 days a week, with a better work-life balance on offer. With increased agile working and the opportunity to have a healthy work-life balance, it is more common to have a family life without it being detrimental to your career. This is all helping women to take their career further within practice. Whereas in the past some women might have moved in-house for the flexible benefits and potentially fewer expectations at the senior level, there are a wide range of practices who are making inroads to improve this.

Here at Pro-Finance, we are also finding more female candidates asking questions about their interviewers. From a company perspective, it is important to make sure you have considered the demographic of your interview panel – lots of people see a diverse board as a reflection of your business, so make sure you are not ostracising excellent candidates before they are even through the door at interview stage.

There are still improvements to be made in terms of achieving gender parity in the finance and accountancy sectors, and the gender pay gap remains a problem that is not yet resolved. However, it is clear that recent years have seen companies making inroads to improve this, and this is certainly the case for women in finance. Pro-Group is an inclusive employer and we are proud to have a female heavy employee base, with 50% women in management and on the board. Looking at the companies and finance professionals we work with on a daily basis, women are being offered more and more opportunities to progress to senior levels in practice and going forward into 2020, we hope to see more of this.

For more information on this article, contact Kate Green on 020 7269 6363 or kate.green@pro-finance.co.uk.

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