Like many other sectors, the accounting and professional services industry has long seen a gender imbalance at the senior leadership level. Research from Deloitte found that only 24% of leadership roles within financial services firms were occupied by women in 2021, up slightly from 22% in 2019.
We have come some way as an industry. We are heading in the right direction about making sure the gender diversity of the general population is truly reflected in our accountancy teams. However, we still have a long way to go. This is especially important today, as the fight for talent means a company’s values and commitment to diversity matter just as much, if not more, than traditional factors such as salary and benefits.
Recognition is a key driver for inclusion
Against this background, the accounting industry must do more to ensure it adapts to reflect accounting as an equal, inclusive and diverse sector. When it comes to gender parity, a study by Achievers Workforce Institute found that recognition was a key driver for inclusion and belonging in the workplace. This is significant as the report also highlights that a strong sense of belonging correlates with higher engagement, job commitment and productivity.
For example, the study found that 40% of employees with a strong sense of belonging rarely think about looking for a job elsewhere. This is compared to 95% of employees with a low sense of belonging, who are more likely to search for a new role that better engages with and supports their needs.
We all want greater flexibility and benefits from our workplace to support our needs and commitments outside work better. This has been a priority for me throughout my career and as I transitioned into a working mum.
Companies need to have the right processes and policies to ensure women always feel supported – from the moment they join a company to having a child (if this is the path they choose) and other key life decisions. For example, at Ignition, we promote flexible working, regularly review our leave policies and provide the right tools to ensure employees are not disadvantaged by making choices on how they work.
But it doesn’t stop there. Flexibility, by its nature, can mean ever-changing scenarios. An example is when a parent wants to transition back into the workplace. It is important for women to be made to feel comfortable upon returning to work by ensuring a minimum of statutory regulations are followed, having a support network in place and a clear, collaborative return-to-work plan.
Flexibility leads to a greater work-life balance
Unfortunately, when companies don’t offer flexibility to women, especially at a senior level where there’s added pressure and workload, we see capable leaders in more junior positions in firms and bookkeeping companies. Although they have the talent, ability, and experience to work in senior roles, they are choosing to prioritise their commitments outside of work and achieve a healthier work-life balance.
We are also seeing more women reassess their relationship with work after time away from the workplace. In fact, 2021 research from The Accountancy Partnership saw a 21% increase in start-ups led by women over the last five years as they opt to take their careers into their own hands. Having spoken to some of these women through Ignition’s Top 50 Women In Accounting awards, their stories and the adversity they have faced to get to where they are today are incredibly inspiring.
Inspiring the next generation of leaders
We set up the awards to formally champion women across the accounting and bookkeeping sector as we strongly believe in making sure we don’t just talk the talk. We are committed to helping future-proof the industry and investing in and celebrating talent. The Women in Accounting awards allow us to create a positive work culture against major global trends such as ‘quiet quitting’ and the Great Resignation. We need to continue recognising and engaging women in accounting and professional services, empowering them to stay in the industry and develop and progress into more senior leadership positions.
These awards are just one of how we are empowering women on a global scale. We received almost 1,000 nominations this year from across the globe, with winners from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, South Africa, the Cayman Islands and Nigeria.
One of the women in the UK leading the charge is Elona Mortimer-Zhika, CEO of IRIS Software Group. Elona believes accountants are the backbone of our economy, and diversity leads to better decision-making and more business success.
Acknowledging her win, she said: “I’m really proud to be a woman in accounting because I believe accountants are the best tools SMEs have to grow and thrive. Only nine of the UK’s top 100 companies are headed up by women, so recognising the top women in accounting is a wonderful, great step to shine the light on diversity and inclusion.
“My advice to women in the accounting industry is to recognise the great power we have as accounting professionals and the role that we play in ensuring that businesses keep going and growing. We are paving the way for many more women to progress their careers.”
This year’s awards were all about celebrating our unique differences, and it’s these differences that make women such a vital part of the accounting industry, which is echoed by Kat Wellum-Kent, Director of Monahans.
She said: “Having spent the early part of my career trying to copy what those around me were doing, I’ve now realised that it’s much more important to be your true self and show up as you in whatever way that is, just as these women are doing in their respective communities and industries across the world. To be named as one of them is incredibly humbling.”
Of the 250 women recognised through this programme, it’s clear that representation of women in accounting and professional services across all seniority levels is increasing. However, women still face challenges around equal pay and opportunity parity that need to be addressed. Initiatives like this are just the starting point.
Through the Top 50 Women in Accounting, Ignition is elevating women in the industry to help them learn, collaborate and be inspired by each other’s commitment to progressing the industry forward. By uplifting more women into senior roles, we can work to drive cultural change and inspire the next generation of future leaders.
By Emma Crawford-Falekaono, Managing Director, EMEA at Ignition.