Research by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has shown that the audit and accountancy profession is lagging behind business for the diversity of senior management teams.
The financial watchdog said that, while the majority of partner level roles are held by white men, its research showed that a third of UK audit and accountancy firms do not collect diversity data for their workforce.
Diversity in leadership
The findings, contained in the FRC’s upcoming Key Facts and Trends in the Accountancy Profession report, reveal that, while women make up 46% of manager level roles at audit and accountancy firms, just 17% of women achieve partner level positions.
At smaller firms with less than 200 staff where 52% of managers are women, only 11% are made partner.
This contrasts significantly to diversity levels in the FTSE 350 which this month hit the target for executive board positions to be 30% filled by women.
PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY have come under pressure to improve female representation at partner level. Currently, between 19% and 21% of partner level roles at the “Big Four” are filled by women.
Encouragingly, said the FRC, the industry has a strong pipeline of talent with women making up 37% of professional body membership, up from 35% in 2014.
FRC chief executive Sir Jon Thompson said: “The business case for improved diversity has been made and now it’s time for the audit and accountancy profession to take further positive action.
“While it is encouraging to see more firms implementing diversity and inclusion strategies and more women, ethnic minority groups and disabled people being appointed to middle management roles, more needs to be done to ensure the firms are not limiting access to the most senior roles.”
While women and ethnic minority groups are increasingly being appointed to middle management roles at accountancy firms, the firms – which often advise large corporations on their own diversity and inclusion strategies – need to do far more to maximise their pipeline of future talent and promote women, BAME and disabled employees to the top levels of management.
The FRC said it is challenging firms to take rapid action and report on their progress, for example by signing up to the government’s Equalities Office pledge for leaders to take personal responsibility for improving diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.
Sharron Gunn, executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, said: “We agree that the senior management of our profession should be diverse, and we want to see firms take action for this to happen. As a minimum, we’d like to see all firms collect diversity data to ensure they understand the make-up of their workforce and so they can address any barriers that might exist.”