In the modern workplace, ensuring diversity and inclusion is of more importance than ever before, and the accountancy profession is no exception. Never before have conversations about gender parity, or lack thereof, been so ubiquitous.

Diversity in all forms, particularly diversity of thought, is crucial to a company’s growth and success. EY’s website explains: “Research shows that companies with diverse teams that are led inclusively perform better than those with more homogenous teams.” EY also refers to research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics which showed that organizations with 30% female leaders could increase its net margin by up to 6%. The case for inclusion in the workplace is clear.

But while awareness around this issue has increased, and progress has been made, there is certainly more work to be done – evidenced by the responses to Accountancy Age’s Top 50+50 Accountancy firms survey 2017.

When asked what gender their firm leaders were, 87.1% responded male and only 12.9% said female. When it came to partners the gender imbalance persisted, with an astounding 19% of firms revealing they had 0 female partners. Only one firm had under 60% male partners, and the majority of firms had much higher proportions.

Of course, these statistics are likely to be skewed by smaller firms with few partners, but nonetheless the gender disparity is clear – especially when considered alongside statistics of gender distribution across more junior roles.

In response to what percentage of firms’ qualified UK accountants are female, average responses ranged between 42% – 50%. These responses reveal no shortage of female accountants, and yet women are severely underrepresented across the corporate pipeline, particularly in more senior roles. This alludes to deeper structural and perhaps societal issues that prevent many women from reaching the top jobs.

Under new governmental regulations requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay data, earlier this summer PwC reported their gender pay gap to be 13.7% while Deloitte reported their pay gap to be 18.2%.

When looking at the statistics for ethnic minorities in accountancy, the figures are even sparser. 48% of respondents said they had 0 partners from ethnic minority backgrounds. This low level of representation persisted in numbers of UK qualified accountants, with the most common response being 0, according to 16% of respondents. 90% of firms had under 25% qualified accountants from ethnic minority backgrounds.

PwC recently published a report revealing a 12.8% BAME pay gap. The firm said the pay gap was ‘entirely driven’ by the fact that more BAME individuals were employed in junior roles than senior roles, alluding to similar structural issues that prevent women from climbing the corporate ladder.

So, what are firms doing to improve diversity and inclusion?

96.8% respondents said they have a diversity and/or equality policy in place and 32.2% said they have a dedicated diversity director.

Looking at the diversity policies of the Big Four firms, all have dedicated diversity programmes, networks and have set diversity targets. These are all positive steps towards closing the gender gap, particularly the use of targets which sets trackable goals.

EY has outlined estimations that predict at the current rate gender parity won’t be achieved for another 170 years. Other firms are more optimistic; Deloitte estimates that the gap will remain until 2069, while PwC envisages that it will close by 2041. The importance of putting diversity and equality at the forefront of any agenda is therefore clear – and while accountancy firms have taken some positive steps forward, much more progress needs to be made in the coming years.

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