Women make up just 43 per cent of full time accountants, according to research carried out by Randstad Financial & Professional, the specialist accountancy, financial services and legal recruiter.
Of the 70,000 full time chartered accountants employed full-time in the UK in 2011 just 30,000 were female. The accountancy profession lags behind the law where 50 per cent – 56,000 out of 113,000 – of full time professionals are women. Accountancy compared favourably, however, to managers in financial institutions, actuaries, economists, and statisticians where just 35 per cent of full time employees are women.
But at a recent round table event, “High Achieving, Inspiring Women”, hosted by Randstad UK, a panel of high-powered women – including the Williams F1 Team Development Driver, Susie Wolff – said boardroom quotas are not the answer to their underrepresentation in industry. 94 per cent of the attendees also echoed their belief that quotas were not the best way to ensure women get ahead in sectors like accountancy or insurance.
The event kicked off with Susie Wolff talking about her own experiences in Formula 1. Over the history of F1, only five women have entered a grand prix – compared to 822 men. But the arrival of Susie Wolff onto the test driver rosters continues a gradual shift towards increased female involvement in F1. Louise Evans has been the CFO of Williams since November 2011 and Frank Williams’ daughter Claire Williams took up a position on the board of the team in April. In October, Monisha Kaltenborn became F1’s first woman team principal when she took over the running of the Sauber F1 Team.
Susie Wolff comments: “There are still stereotypes about women in the workplace and in the driving seat. I’ve faced many obstacles and being a female in a man’s world is very tough. Equally, I’ve also enjoyed support. I have a passion for racing and a determination to be the best driver – not the best female driver. You have to keep on fighting for your ultimate goal and for that self-belief is vital.”
Diversity consultant Sasha Scott, managing director of Inclusive Diversity who was also one of the panellists at the Randstad event adds, “There are many highly talented women within the professional sectors and losing women at senior stages in their career is an acute problem for business. This gender brain drain coupled with high levels of insecurity and low self-esteem can create a mind set for women that is counter-productive. Women look for role models within the sector and often they don’t aspire to who they see. Getting ahead is about a positive mind-set and a collaborative culture within the organisation. For women to succeed they need to believe they can.”
The panel discussion touched on some of the reasons why women are not better represented in business, including whether women at the top good are good at guiding other women to follow the same path. When asked if this was the case, 58 per cent said women at the top were good at guiding other women up the ladder.
The participants were also polled on supposedly female traits that they thought held women back. 73 per cent listed ‘self doubt’, while 18 per cent said ‘emotion’ and 8% ‘too nurturing’.
Tara Ricks, managing director of Randstad Financial & Professional, also on the panel said, “I have never been a big believer in the glass stiletto stereotype – where a female leader who has made it, is unsupportive to those on their way up. The majority of our participants don’t think women at the top are failing to help others up the ladder either. If there are female traits holding women back, the participants clearly think it’s a lack of self-confidence. Having seen men and women in action at interview I know that if a woman has experience of five of the six requirements on a job description, she will often focus on explaining why she can’t do the 6th. Men on the other hand tend to be better at emphasising their experience of the other five. “
When asked if mandatory quotas were the solution to greater female participation in business, 94 per cent of the participants said that they were not. However, when asked if women should actively promote other women, 50 per cent of those polled said they should.
Tara Ricks said, “Quotas are certainly a hugely controversial option – while everyone should be hired and promoted on the basis of skill, not gender, that’s not necessarily happening. Many people believe that quotas could become a necessary evil as other measures fail to even the playing field. But my personal view, and the view I hear echoed by many women in financial services, accountancy and law is that they would prefer to get there on their own merit. Nobody wants to be the token on the board just because of their gender. Perhaps the bigger issue around quotas is the smaller ‘share’ of self-confidence women seem to have compared to men to aim high in the first place.”
As part of the discussion, the participants were also listed what they thought the key attributes that women bought to the business world. 61 per cent said that empathy was the greatest strength while another 16 per cent said teamwork. Just 6 per cent said sensitivity and 2 per cent caution. 14 per cent of those polled said men and women bought the same attributes to the table.
 2011 Annual Survey of Hours and Employment (the latest edition available) carried out by the Office of National Statistics