An issue that has received considerable press coverage recently is that the
number of senior women in professional services does not reflect the number of
women joining the profession at a graduate level.
Deloitte & Touche is no different, as while graduate recruitment has
been more or less equal in terms of the number of men and women joining the
firm, the balance of men to women disappears the further up you go, and this is
most apparent at a senior level, where only 11 per cent of partners are female.
A recent survey by Accountancy magazine highlighted the issue as one that
pervades the whole profession. The research found that among the leading 60
accountancy firms, only 9 per cent of the top accounting jobs were held by
As well as being an issue for the accounting profession, the lack of women
holding senior roles is also evident in the wider business arena. Deloitte
& Touche analysis of the FTSE 350 shows that just 3 per cent of executive
directors are women, and in the FTSE 100, only one company has a female chief
Clearly women are just as attracted into the industry as men. But as women
qualify and gain more experience, many tend to leave the profession for careers
in industry and elsewhere.
With ‘attracting and retaining top talent’ identified as an issue that sits
at the top of every chief executive’s agenda, the departure of women as they
become more senior is of great concern both to the accountancy profession, and
to business as a whole.
Why is it happening? Is it that women with families feel the work
environment offered by large organisations is unsympathetic to their needs, or
is it simply that women are less ambitious to take on leadership roles than
their male peers? It is certainly not the latter – there are number of leading
females in the FTSE 100, including Alison Reed of Marks & Spencer, or
Margaret Ewing of BAA, and they are great examples of what women can achieve.
Clearly, developments in work-life balance legislation make it more
practical for women to work and have a family. But are performance measures in
business too male-focused and not suited to recognising the characteristics
that women can offer? Men and women are physically and attitudinally different.
In the workplace women can offer a variety of strengths that can challenge the
accustomed norm in traditionally male-dominated environments. Perhaps the lack
of women in senior roles means fewer role models for younger women to look to
and learn from.
Whatever the reason for the disparity at senior levels it is the
responsibility of those in leadership roles to ensure that talent is retained
and developed and this means making sure that opportunities are just as
accessible to women as they are to men.
By John Connolly, Chief executive and senior partner, Deloitte &