Professional accountancy has always attracted an equitable split of men and women at entry level, but the balance of female representation becomes biased towards males at higher levels, especially in senior leadership teams.

A recent study by Accountancy Age found that just one fifth of partners in the industry were female.

This trend is not unique to accountancy, however: a report by The Pipeline in 2020 found that there are more CEO’s called Peter in the UK than there are female CEO’s leading FTSE 350 companies. While things are changing, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality when it comes to gender.

The lack of gender representation in senior roles is due to a myriad of causes and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; the lack of representation creating both bias from the top down and bottom up in terms of accessibility to roles, promotion and progression opportunities. As an industry, the competitive and presenteeism culture of some accountancy firms can be prohibitive for women, who still shoulder over 60% of the “unpaid care work” required to manage family life. A lack of flexibility in working hours to manage this burden, and unfair prejudice against flexible working within corporate firms, can create a challenging environment for women to secure senior and leadership roles. The benefits of a flexible environment are not limited to women, it provides opportunities for everyone to lead a more balanced life.

Ashcroft is working to change this. We are already well above the industry average: half of our senior management team is female. By setting a precedent of better female representation across all areas of the business, from recruitment through mentoring to management, it is our aim to inspire, empower and support the more junior members of the team from the moment they embark on their career with us. It is our shared hope with this approach that we encourage greater ambitions, enable effective mentoring and deliver incredible value for our clients through the benefit of varied experiences and perspectives in their service.

For our more junior team members, it is our aim to open as many career pathways for them as possible. We do this through an industry-recognised technical training programme which is open to everyone, and provides staff with access to train in every department of our business, rather than adopting a siloed approach to training and pigeonholing our staff as they start their career.

Chloe Langford, trainee accountant at Ashcroft Partnership, who joined the firm in June 2022, commented: “As a woman at the beginning of my accountancy career, one of the factors that was key to my decision to join Ashcroft was seeing a genuine balance of gender equality and the opportunity to work with female role models in senior positions. This is a model I hope to see emulated across the sector as my career progresses.”

This structure ensures that everyone gains well-rounded experience and confidence in tax, accounting and auditing, and the strong female presence in our leadership team also means it is very likely that trainees will have the regular opportunity to work with or be mentored by women in senior roles during their time at Ashcroft.

Our approach to talent retention and attraction means we have the right person in the right role, regardless of gender. This seeks to foster a culture that encourages open dialogue between every employee and all departments. We are proud of the work we have done in creating this inclusive environment and recognise that it is a continuous process which necessitates care to maintain. Our culture is one of our most valuable assets as a business, and we want it to be a place where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, be inquisitive and to keep learning.

About the author

Fran Reid is partner at Cambridge-based boutique accountancy firm, Ashcroft, and leads its apprenticeship programme. Fran is passionate about ensuring that junior accountants are properly trained and have access to continuous professional development. She has worked as a senior level accountant since becoming a partner in 1996.