General, Women's History

Women’s History Month: The Glass Ceiling and the Calculator.

Lord Davies’ report into women in the boardroom highlighted once again the lack of women in the top jobs.Lord Davies said:

Over the past 25 years the number of women in full-time employment has increased by more than a third and there have been many steps towards gender equality in the workplace, with flexible working and the Equal Pay Act, however, there is still a long way to go. Currently 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom. Radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed.[1]

Unfortunately the problem isn’t confined to the boardroom as can be seen by looking at just one professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).  The ICAEW was set up in 1880 to train and represent chartered accountants (ACAs). Although the admissions of females was discussed in 1895, and in 1909 the then President of the Board of Trade, Winston Churchill, told the ICAEW to admit women, it was not until 1919 that the first female was finally admitted.  Until the mid 1970s the numbers of female ACAs remained at the 5% level, but by 1990 the numbers had increased to 12%, by 2000 to 19% and by 2008 around 24% of the membership was female.[2]  Total membership worldwide is currently about 136,000.[3]  The number of female ACAs may have increased but only 10% of senior positions are held by women

It is perhaps tempting to think that the lack of women in the profession is due to a  lack of interest in accountancy or finance on the part of women, yet the historical evidence suggest otherwise.  Indeed a special edition of Accounting History Review was devoted to women’s involvement in accountancy and investment.[4]  This showed that, for example, women routinely kept the books for large estates and family businesses as part of their domestic responsibilities.  By the nineteenth century the majority of bookkeepers were women and in the First World War, women were drafted into the Army Pay Department.  Octavia Hill, as well as her charity work, kept the books for voluntary organizations, taught bookkeeping, and managed her family’s finances.[5]

It is not, however, the lack of female members that is the real problem or indeed the real shock; it is the extent of the earnings gap between the sexes that really shocks and illustrates the problems faced by women.  Female ACAs earn 70% of the average salary for men, yet have passed the same exams and were trained in exactly the same way.[6]  This is unlikely to be due to lack of ability: in the 2010 professional exams, 8 out of the 10 prize winners were female.[7]  Part of the reason for the gap is usually explained by the fact that female ACAs are more likely to work part time than their male contemporaries (24% compared to 9%) and are also more likely to work in the sectors that typically pay less, such as public sector, charities or not for profit organizations (24% compared to 9%).  However a recent survey suggests that the pay gap is widening: in the last year, the earnings of female ACAs under 30 fell by 6% yet men in tin the same age group saw a rise of 6%.  Bonuses also vary by gender: male ACAs typically get a bonus of nearly two and half times greater than that awarded to female ACAs.[8]  It seems we still have along way to go.

Jane Berney qualified as an ACA in 1998, after studying history at Manchester University.  She stayed in the profession until the birth of her second son in 1999.  She did not realise until she researched this blog quite what a pioneer she was, though she had always suspected the pay gap existed.


[1] As quoted on the Department for Business and Innovations website, 24 February 2011 http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2011/Feb/women-on-boards#women accessed 10 March 2011

[2] Figures taken from ‘ICAEW Presentation: Women in the city- Follow up submission, October 2009’

[3] ICAEW website http://www.icaew.com/en/about-icaew/who-we-are, accessed 10 March 2011

[4] Accounting History Review (2006), 16:2

[5] Ibid, Josephine Maltby and Janette Rutherford,  ‘Editorial’ pp133-142

[6] Accountancy, March 2011 p97

[7] ICAEW press release

[8] Accountancy March 2011, p97

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