AAT: closing the gender pay gap

With AAT celebrating its 40th birthday this year, we’re naturally focusing on what makes us proud as an organisation helping people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, make it in the accountancy sector.

And few things make us prouder then the fact that around two in three AAT members and AAT student members are female. We’ve also had ten female Presidents to date.

Closing the gender pay gap

Our latest gender pay gap report, published ahead of this Sunday’s 110th annual International Women’s Day, shows a difference between the median hourly rate of pay that male and female colleagues receive of just 4% – down from 13.7% the previous year.

While we know that we still have some work to do in this area, what’s even more pleasing for us as a company is that under the terms of the Women in Finance Charter, which we were the first accountancy body to sign back in November 2016, AAT committed to having 40% females in senior management positions by March 2022.

As our latest report focuses on our submission made in September 2019, we’re absolutely thrilled to have met that 40% target three years early. In addition, we now have a 50/50 gender split on our executive team.

Challenging traditional stereotypes

But although our own gender gap figures are showing great signs of moving in the right direction, and more broadly AAT membership challenges traditional stereotypes of male dominance in accountancy, this doesn’t necessarily translate into female leadership in the sector. And if women feel they are able to enter accountancy, but not progress through the ranks, then the gender pay gap problem won’t go away.

A 2017 survey found that 87% of workers at the top 50 accountancy firms said their business leaders were male, with only one firm having under 60% male partners, and 19% of firms having no female partners whatsoever. That suggests that there remain equality and diversity issues within the wider profession.

As a company that is passionate about equal opportunity for all, we call on all our members – whether they are heads of their own business or not – to consider these issues within their own firm and call for change if progress in these areas appears to be lacking.

Some practical steps for accounting firms

  • Following in AAT’s footsteps by signing up to the Women in Finance Charter. This constitutes a pledge for gender balance across financial services, through progressing women into senior positions in the finance industry: Women in Finance Charter.
  • Getting the right systems in place to analyse pay information and representation. Ensure your firm obtains a clear picture of current experiences and attitudes – which can help to pinpoint the barriers, conscious and unconscious, that may be blocking female progression.
  • Even if your company isn’t required to report on your gender pay gap by law, this is no reason not to set targets to improve gender diversity. This needs to be underpinned by a commitment to reviewing and reporting at regular intervals.
  • Include training to deal with discrimination issues. AAT has successfully done this with unconscious bias training for recruiting managers.
  • Get flexible. More than 50% of AAT staff now benefit from flexible working options, which help to change the traditional ways of working and ensure more equal opportunities, regardless of responsibilities outside of the workplace. For example, some of our male staff now take the opportunity to work reduced or compressed hours in order to help more with childcare, allowing their partner to go back into the workplace.
  • Celebrate your successes! AAT regularly looks to tell the stories of our female members rising towards the top of the accounting profession. For example, last year we interviewed five successful career women about their experiences in accountancy.
  • More broadly, we’re always keen on widening the pool to accountancy – and part of the responsibility here lies with schools. Girls should receive more encouragement to pursue careers in high-paying jobs; and also offer careers advice that show university isn’t for everyone. Someone taking an AAT apprenticeship straight after leaving school can become a chartered accountant a year earlier than a peer who has gone to university – and without the mountain of student debt (and with more career experience to match).

In summary

Overall change in this area will only truly be realised when senior employees come together to review business practice and ensure it offers equal opportunities for all, where progression is on merit rather than taking factors such as maternity leave, childcare or flexible working into account. We hope that all our members will be prepared to tackle poor practice in this area, if necessary.  

Further reading:

Olivia Hill is AAT's Chief HR Officer.

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