Women in senior roles is the norm at Ambition UK, as the majority of our Senior Managers are female. However, widely speaking this remains something of a rarity.
In Accountancy Practices in particular, there remains a significant lack of females in senior management and Partner level positions.
What are firms currently doing to try and increase the number of women progressing into senior positions? What needs to be changed within Practice to encourage more women to put themselves forward for senior roles?
Ambition recently held a networking breakfast to discuss these very topics. Among the attendees were senior women from various sized Accountancy Firms, from Sole Practitioners to the Big 4.
The main points raised by the discussion are outlined below.
Firms are generally open to women working flexibly and go to great lengths to highlight their support for this. However, they are rarely tailoring portfolios to suit the working style and hours of those individuals who work part-time or flexibly. Many are therefore expected to carry out the same amount of work within a shorter time span which poses the question; is this really a part-time role?
To change this, firms need to adjust the portfolios of their senior staff, not just females, to ensure that those who work part-time or flexibly have client portfolios and responsibilities that reflect this.
For example, large clients that require round-the-clock attention or smaller more complex clients should be delegated to the person who is best able to service them.
Another point that was discussed was promotion tracks and unconscious bias. Interestingly, if there are 2 candidates (1 male / 1 female) who are up for promotion in the Big 4 and the female does not get the job, the deciding parties then have to give definitive reasons to justify their decision.
This is a valuable stage in the recruitment process and one that should be implemented in organisations of all sizes.
It ensures that women are given fair hearing and that unconscious bias will not play a factor in hiring decisions. One thing that everyone around the table felt passionately about was that women are not promoted just because they are women!
Besides wining and dining, there are limited activities that female Partners and their clients can get involved in. This is made even more prominent for women who are working flexibly as they often have other commitments that reduce the amount of evening networking they can do.
Breakfast meetings were favoured for these women as they are more inclusive events and are held at a more convenient time. This, however, goes back to tailoring someone’s client portfolio to suit the individual’s working style and character and ensuring that the necessary networking and business development is reflected in this.
Biding your time
Most of the women around the table had experienced at some point in their career a period in which they did not progress, for whatever reason, as work became less of a priority. They remained at a similar level for longer than normal, "biding their time", in order to focus on another aspect of their life. When they were ready they then put their foot back on the pedal and started climbing the career ladder again.
Sharing success stories
Women within Practice need to be better educated about the success stories of ‘normal’ women who have reached the top. We idolise the Sheryl Sandbergs and Arianna Huffingtons of the world who are incredible, amazing, highly successful individuals but they are not the norm!
Most of us are normal, driven, hardworking women who have successful careers and balance life both in and outside of work.
We are the people who females progressing through the ranks need to look to and it is our responsibility to educate and guide these women to show them that they don’t have to give up their life to have Partnership or Senior Management roles.
Overall the event generated a really good discussion in which a number of interesting points were raised. It was clear that in a world where we have information at our fingertips, we are still not communicating enough with women who are progressing through the ranks within Practice.
It is wrongly perceived that you have to give up your life to get to Senior and Partnership level in Practice.
This is not the case; there are many women in Senior or Partnership positions who are able to maintain a good work-life balance and haven’t had to sell their soul to do so. They may have “bided their time” at a certain point in their career or ensured that their portfolio was adjusted when they went part-time, but they have reached that level without the perceived sacrifice. This is what we as a group will work to communicate and work to change this perception, to encourage females that they can have their career and the life they want, if they want it.