There's no accounting for families

Roger Trapp on the problems of balancing books and babies

Jennifer is a 30-year-old chartered accountant who - after training with a big six firm - works in industry. She is worried that having a child would mean "dropping out of the career structure". She has seen colleagues lose their positions while o n maternity leave, even though they are guaranteed that they will receive the same salary when they return to work. And part-time work at her level is not considered an option.

This case study - taken from a recently published report on women's careers in accountancy by Isabel Boyer - will sound familiar to many. Indeed, there are many variations on its theme in the report. But it is not the whole story.

In the course of research for the booklet The Balance on Trial - Women's Careers in Accountancy, published by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Ms Boyer found instances of women managing to hold down challenging positions - sometimes even being promoted - while taking time off or working part time because they had children.

Take, for instance, Juliet. She works part time as an audit manager in the northern office of an accounting firm. Although she did not feel able to return to work full time after the birth of her first child, she remains ambitious and is keen to keep working. Realising that her contribution can be more important at different times of the year, she works an average of four days a week. But, if needed, she may work full time for three months or longer and then take some weeks off at home when the pressureis reduced.

Or there is Beth. She had planned to work part time when she had young children, so had set out to equip herself with the necessary audit and small-business skills that would enable her to do this in her own practice. Now linked with another practice, run by a woman without children who works full time, she works three days a week, one in the office and two with clients. She is increasing her hours as the practice grows and will work an extra day when her children are older.

The link between the two cases is that the women in question have some control over their work. As Juliet says, she is responsible for her work and so can use her own judgement to make her job work. She decides when she wants to work, organises cover, manages relationships with her clients and keeps her colleagues informed.

More common is the experience of Pat. She sees the culture of the company she works for as a barrier to progress. She meets her targets and receives good reviews for her work, but feels her superiors will not promote someone who works part time.

Like many companies, hers sets great store by long hours. If work is managed efficiently and mothers go home at a reasonable hour, it is interpreted as a reduction in commitment.

Questioning such policies and encouraging companies to change them is the purpose of the report by Ms Boyer, who, after spells in banking and industry, runs the Matrix Consultancy, which advises employers on work and family issues.

The findings of the research, which was supported by the UK and Ireland's six accountancy bodies, need to be borne in mind by all members of the profession because women now account for 14 per cent of their numbers. And, thanks to an acceleration in the past decade, this proportion is growing. Among members under 35, the proportion of women is nearly 30 per cent, while among students it is 36 per cent.

But although the barriers to women entering the profession seem to have been largely overcome, women accountants, like their counterparts in other professions, start to fall behind male colleagues later in their careers. Male accountants are twice as likely as women to become partners in larger practices, and twice as likely to become company directors. Women tend to earn less than men - not because of unequal pay for equal work but because of unequal access to senior positions.

The accountancy bodies themselves are hardly blazing a trail here. The Chartered Association of Certified Accountants has, in Anthea Rose, a female chief executive, while the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland followed the lead of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland in electing a female president. Sheila Masters, a KPMG partner, is in the running to become the first woman president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales after last week declaring herself a candidate in this year's vice-presidential poll.

Ms Boyer believes these organisations could do much to change the status quo. As well as recognising that the issue is central to the whole profession, they should develop a clearer understanding of how the profile of the profession and the needs of members are changing, improve services for women, provide employers with information on women's career issues and set a good example on employment practices.

But women can also help themselves by informing their professional bodies of their concerns, giving their support to bodies such as Women in Accountancy and, when in senior positions, supporting those coming through the system.

This argument is not merely for the altruistic. Pointing out that permanent changes in society and the workforce make old-fashioned employment practices untenable, Ms Boyer makes a business case that is guaranteed to appeal to accountants. If employers, influenced by the professional bodies, do not make the changes needed, there will be an increasing waste of talented people who cannot find a way of working within the system.

"Wastage is bad for employers, bad for women and bad for the prestige of the profession as a whole," she says. "The profession cannot afford to train large groups of women and then watch their potential being wasted as they are unable to get to the top. The cost of doing nothing will increase over time, and lost subscriptions from women members who leave the profession could considerably dent the bodies' finances."

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?