It’s not just the potential of women at stake, it’s the potential of accountancy

It’s not just the potential of women at stake, it’s the potential of accountancy

Jean Stephens, CEO of RSM International, outlines the case for gender diversity in the accountancy industry

The lack of women in senior positions throughout the accountancy industry – throughout any financial services industry actually – is something that business, government and society is trying to tackle.

However, in 2017, there were seven high profile CEO appointments within the accounting industry.

None of those appointed were women.

It’s important not to jump to conclusions when looking at a statistic such as this. It may be easy to assume that these companies chose men over women for the role, but it is important to acknowledge that this may not be the case. Without understanding the wider context of the application and recruitment process, we shouldn’t begin to blame individual institutions, or the wider industry, when there may be a lack of female applicants to begin with.

So, is supply the issue? Possibly, but again, that’s based on an assumption that not enough women are encouraged to take accountancy courses when they’re going through the education system. People can be quick to blame these systems and institutions, but it is important to recognise that approximately 50% of accounting students are female, suggesting that women are engaged with the subject at a young age. It is apparent that something happens as they progress up the career ladder – potentially a drop off point where women either aren’t engaging or, worse still, aren’t being engaged with.

Every second accounting student is female. This is, of course, a good statistic but we must capitalise on this and ensure these graduates progress up the ladder and reach the top. Failure to achieve this means that we lose out on a wealth of talent that could change the industry for the better. We need to ensure all great minds have an opportunity to reach the top regardless of gender, race, faith or any other characteristic of a person that makes them different. By doing this, we will not only be maximising the potential of individuals, but the potential of the industry as well.

A short trip away from my London Office you will find an example of positive change, and that is the recent opening by the former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard of a Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London. The Institute aims to champion women and shed light on women’s achievements in senior leadership roles – a mission which I wholeheartedly support and hope to see prosper and thrive. Initiatives like this are imperative as we strive to build a stronger dialogue around supporting women as they try to break through the glass ceiling.

The issue of gender diversity in business also spills into a wider issue that has a clear impact on business performance – diversity and inclusion. Businesses with a diverse workforce and inclusive culture consistently outperform their rivals on both local and world stages and find it easier to recruit. Diversity and inclusiveness give an edge to many businesses in the competition to secure talent – the lack of which is a growing issue and one that will undoubtedly escalate even further. The skills gap continues to impact multiple industries and the recruitment market is as fierce as it has ever been. Companies clearly need to plug the vacuum that is being opened before we hit crisis mode.

Champions of the issue are getting louder and the number of businesses that are vocal about both the problem and potential solutions are growing. Whether is it a new Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, a government policy or a business simply trying to proactively make a change, we must continue to push the case for both diversity, and specifically gender diversity in accountancy, if we want the industry we work, live and thrive in to achieve its full potential.

Jean Stephens is CEO of RSM International.

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