Accountancy firms lead the way in female representation

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Discover how businesses are increasing the proportion of women in senior positions.

Gender diversity in the finance sector has shown some improvement over the last year, with official statistics revealing a 35 per cent increase in the number of women in senior level roles.

The Women in Finance Charter – first launched in the UK in 2016 – was set up in response to a 2015 governmental review which found that just 14 per cent of senior-level roles in the sector belonged to women.

The Charter works to improve gender diversity across the sector. It pledges to:

  • Encourage firms to support progression of women into senior roles in financial services sector through focus on executive pipeline and mid-tier levels.
  • Encourage firms to set their own target based on their unique situation.
  • Encourage firms to publicly report on progress to deliver these targets.

By signing up to the Charter, firms pledge to:

  • Promote gender diversity by having one member of the senior team who is responsible for promoting gender diversity and inclusion.
  • Setting internal targets.
  • Ensure senior executive pay is linked to delivery against these targets.

Over 400 firms have now signed up to the Charter. This year’s edition revealed that, on average, female representation in senior roles increased to 35% in 2022. The proportion of female senior management was maintained or increased by 77% of signatories in the same reporting period. Additionally, for the first time the top quarter of signatories had at least 40% female representation in senior management.

And a report by EY showed that UK financial services firms are leading the way in female representation: 58% of UK financial services board appointments were female (compared to 50% across Europe).

But more needs to be done, particularly at business level. It’s crucial that accountancy firms are taking steps to address gender imbalances, not just at entry-level but around career development opportunities and flexible working practices.

We spoke to AAT members to find out what steps they’re taking to improve female representation in their firms.

We have an incredible benefits package and flexible working practices

Rachel Harris MAAT, Founder of @accountant_she and StriveX Accountants

My experience has always been that there’s a clear issue with female representation in senior leadership roles in accountancy.

The reason I created @accountant_she was because there were no female partners in the top 75 practice that I trained in and I believe that we can only be what we can see. I wanted to create content, open doors, create bursaries and let people into the real life of what being a female leader in accounting looks like.

As a firm, we have a 75% female workforce with a 50% split evenly on female leadership positions. I believe that seeing women in leadership positions creates great role models, encouraging future women to take leadership roles.

We have an incredible benefits package and a very strong culture which attracts fantastic talent. It’s my job as a leader to make sure that the benefits package serves everyone in the same way, regardless of their gender and outside of work commitments, like families, kids and pets!

Every member of our team has flexible, remote and work from anywhere working opportunities, as well as employee assistance programmes, sick pay and personal development opportunities. I’ve always had the dream that not one of our employees should ever miss a child’s sports day or parents evening. Flexible working opportunities and an outcome-based working environment mean that they are trusted and respected to manage their own time and keep that work life rhythm ticking along.

Verdict: Seeing women in leadership positions creates future female leaders. Our flexible working opportunities and outcome-based environment also enable staff to keep a work-life balance.

Providing staff flexibility to work around home lives is key

Rosie Berridge FMAAT, Director, Accountability Edinburgh, Chair of Edinburgh AAT

When I set up Accountability Edinburgh as a mother of three 11 years ago, it was with the express vision that this would provide flexible working arrangements for all staff. I had left a job which I loved but which paid me less than I was paying in childcare.

All the team have flexible working arrangements – they can work part time and flexible hours. We have 12 members of staff, 10 of which are women, with women working at every level. I am the female director, and the head of virtual finance and payroll managers are both women.

All our staff have the same development opportunities. We have a published progression pathway – which applies equally to men and women. The main focus for us is about allowing staff flexibility to work around their home lives and this applies equally to all staff.

Verdict: We provide staff flexibility to work around their home lives and have women working at every level.

Mentoring and networking programmes have improved female representation

Lily Montgomery, Partner and Human Resources at HW Fisher

Although there is no conscious bias around recruiting women at HW Fisher, the number of women applying for roles has definitely increased thanks to better female representation at the firm. Being able to see the promotion and growth of women in senior positions for all levels of staff encourages others to reach their goals, in what has historically been a male-dominated industry.

HW Fisher follow a hybrid working policy allowing more flexibility for our staff. This has helped to promote more work-life balance. We also have a number of wellness offerings, including enhanced maternity leave.

The efforts and achievements of women at HW Fisher in particular are celebrated and therefore reflected with promotions. There are also mentoring programmes in place to help encourage development within the business.

Networks, such as WealthiHer, of which HW Fisher is a Partner, has really helped in improving female representation, too. Many of our female staff members have attended networking events which inspire women to advance their futures providing empowerment for women to reach their goals.

Verdict: Mentoring and networking programmes has helped improve female representation at HW Fisher.

Our workplace culture is tailored around employees’ personal and professional needs

Ria-Jaine Lincoln, FMAAT, Founder, The Beauty Accountant

I think things are improving, very slowly, when it comes to female representation in the sector. Firms are starting to think more about their offerings mostly due to the changes since lockdown.

At my firm, we offer flexible working and the ability to work from home. Plus there’s additional leave for those with caring responsibilities, including childcare, eldercare and caring for adult family members with additional needs. We also stagger start and finish times around school drop-offs.

We provide support where we are made aware of domestic abuse impacting a staff member, accommodating support sessions and recovery. This has helped us review triggers within the working environment which is something I am passionate about, being a survivor myself. We have zero tolerance for abuse/passive aggressive communication from clients or anything that makes the team feel unsafe.

In terms of staff development we provide:

  • Additional training opportunities and exposure to all areas of the business for professional and personal development.
  • Support for additional projects that our staff are taking part in, as some have second jobs and/or passion projects.
  • Full transparency across the entire business so staff know how the business is doing and how they fit in, allowing them to make suggestions or raise concerns.
  • Regular reviews of the service matrix to see where staff are competent and ready to step into the next level of responsibility.
  • Regular pay reviews.
  • Attendance of industry events and exposure to other opportunities that I am very fortunate to have access too as my role as judge or panellist on industry webinars.
  • Regular training opportunities via AAT or similar.

We have also started to train in financial abuse issues. Working with a predominantly female client base, it’s important for us as advisors to help signpost or provide material to inform our community.

Verdict: Our workforce is predominantly female, and our workplace policy and support is entirely geared around the personal and professional needs of our workforce.

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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