the suits

Women accountants are not so thin on the ground as they were. They make up about 40 per cent of the student intake and a similar proportion of the junior ranks of the profession. But - as the rare specimens at the top of the big firms attest - they still have trouble breaking through to the upper reaches.

This is the problem that Heather Lyall, newly elected president of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies' Women in Accountancy Group, is pledged to deal with.

Women, as she puts it, "tend to be high achievers in the examinations and to progress well in the early stages of their professional careers, but then progress tapers off. Male accountants are three times as likely to become directors and twice as likely to become partners, even after adjusting for age."

The main reason, Ms Lyall says, is that women are much more likely than men to interrupt their careers in one way or another, usually for family reasons.

Pointing out that women tend to do best in smaller accountancy practices or the public sector, she adds: "I believe it is important for women and their employers to take a proactive approach to career planning, so that an interruption does not mean a loss of skills and career potential for both parties."

Ms Lyall, a member of the council of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, qualified with that body in 1978 and set up her own practice - Lyall Lifford Hall - four years later.

But this was just the start of her attempt to take more control of her career. She now spends two days a week at the practice and two as group accountant with a manufacturing company in Scotland.

"My objective during my presidency of Women in Accountancy will be to develop this concept of a partnership approach to career planning between women accountants and their employers," says Ms Lyall, who stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate in last year's European Parliament elections. To help with this, the group - which represents members of the six UK and Irish accountancy bodies - is publishing a guide containing useful information about the practical implications of such an approach.

RT

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