Bucking the trend: Female leadership in the accountancy sector

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.

female leader, women leading the way featured

The importance of female leadership within cybersecurity

female leader, women leading the way

I am Anna Chung, Principal Researcher at Unit 42, Palo Alto Networks’ global threat intelligence team.

For International Women’s Day, I am sharing my thoughts on the importance of women leadership and employment within cybersecurity through personal anecdotes, as well as advice  for other women interested in joining  the technology and cyber industries.

My day-to-day role at Unit 42 requires me to evaluate the global cyberthreat landscape and provide intelligence assessments to enable customers to make strategic decisions. I spend a lot of time as a threat hunter and dark web expert researching new malicious tools, tactics, and procedures discovered by the international security community. My job not only involves tracking the latest threats and attacks, but also understanding cybercriminals’ motivations and methods to then assist      organisations to be better protected and prepared. This will allow business leaders to prioritise their actions, time, and resources. My cybersecurity career spans across fraud in financial technology fields and network security – there is some crossover, but they are fundamentally different, the solutions and strategies are quite diverse.

It might seem very scientific and technical at first, but there is so much more to a career in cybersecurity. Many people associate it with mathematics, coding, and engineering. However, this can lead to the assumption that there are high entry requirements. Now I, for one, was awful at maths during high school and had once received 50 out of 100 in a national entrance exam but I was still able to pursue a career in information security.

Do not be afraid to challenge yourself and stereotypes – pick your own obstacles to overcome.  By doing so, we can move one step forward in making workplaces and society as a whole more inclusive and diverse.  At the same time, it is also so important  to engage with others, ask questions, learn, and celebrate diversity. Stay openminded and take the first step in making yourself part of the changes you want to see in the world.

When I offer advice to women who want to enter this industry or further their cybersecurity career, I  share my experiences, insights, and professional networks with them, so they are well equipped in navigating  through their career progression. They will know how to handle situations better and what  to do next to realise their dreams, goals, and to reach their desired  destination. There is no ‘right way’ to achieving your dreams. I recommend picking the challenges that interest you, rather than those that are imposed on you – remember to always take time out to be kind to yourself.

As a mentor, I see one of my main coaching goals as empowering young women to respect all elements of the cybersecurity industry to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, because we all have our own attributes as individuals – that is what makes us unique.

To me, a career in cybersecurity develops appreciation for a niche combination of technical abuse and malicious human behaviours. It is both an exciting and demanding role as a very wide range of skills and knowledge are required, which are then harnessed for good purposes.

Anna ChungAbout the author

Anna Chung is a Principal Researcher at Unit 42, the global threat intelligence team at Palo Alto Networks.




The impossible art of being a female leader


New research launched by Mortimer Spinks revealed that the number of women tech bosses is doubling year-on-year.

And while this certainly doesn’t spell the end of the glass ceiling, it certainly shows that great cracks are appearing.

Female Leader
Via Shutterstock

This is brilliant news for the technology industry. Having a greater number of women in the workforce, and in positions of seniority, has clear benefits for business. Beyond more diverse and fresh ideas, it has also been shown to lead to better profitability. Indeed, research from the University of Leeds Business School found that having at least one female director on the board helped cut a company’s chances of going bust by 20 per cent, with that risk decreasing further with a higher female representation on the board.

But despite the benefits, “being the boss” remains a challenge for many women. Indeed, many of us must still tackle the impossible art of either being ‘too soft or too bossy’ and ‘having it all’ (otherwise – and more appropriately – known as a work life balance).

Dawn of the alphazilla

A great contributor to the boss vs. bossy issue is the continuation of the traditional, male-orientated work culture. Women sometimes feel inclined to emulate male culture to reflect expectations of how a woman ‘should’ act in the workplace. This is not surprising because ‘fitting in’ is one of the most important aspects of cultural acceptance, especially as woman climb the ladder. There is a lesson for us all in learning from the successful conduct of our own leaders – whilst also maintaining our authenticity and focusing on being ourselves rather than playing the part of the ‘alphazilla’.

Frequently we can find ourselves in a paradoxical situation where we want to emulate the management style of those bosses we respected, but then face accusations of being “bossy”. Go too far the other way, women are sometimes labelled ‘soft’ and then struggle to command the respect of their colleagues. It is a fine balance, but I find that being authentic often helps to strike that it.

Not having it all

Women who have chosen to have both a successful career and a family - or other massive commitment to something outside of work - are challenged with the question of ‘can I have it all?’

Personally, I am not sure there really is such thing as “having it all”. There was, for me, just a perfectly imperfect world of a crew of people who helped me at work, at home and at play. I chose not to hide the fact that we had kids or commitments to other things and I suppose there is a confidence in that, which might have been more easily tolerated in the tech industry. I found that a combination of being transparent about what I needed and leveraging technology which enabled me to work remotely on some occasions helped me did get things done. But, I also have to admit that I did tend to work all the hours that God sent to get those things done. In a way, it was my ‘fear of failure’ gene kicking in. Even now I do still, by the way, kill myself to make deadlines.

I do understand though why women often feel like they can’t open up about the struggles of juggling work and home life, for fear of being judged. It is a legitimate fear but there are women’s networks and mentoring that can help here.

It is also, perhaps, also unsurprising given many people’s experiences: for example, 14 per cent of British women report been asked about their plans for marriage and/or children at a job interview. This sets a clear tone for that company’s attitude towards the juggling act they may face in the future. My advice? Choose the culture of your prospective employer wisely - culture trumps strategy every time and the best laid plans can be scuppered by an overwhelming culture.

Holding a more senior role, with the new risk and responsibility that it holds, certainly doesn’t make getting a healthy work life balance any easier. Indeed, for many who feel like more eyes are on them, the challenge is even greater. As a leader though, I also believe that getting involved in women’s networks or creating one inside your own business can help to shift the dynamics. WATC is a great example of that!

A greater climate for success

Despite all of these issues, women are succeeding and creating change in the technology industry. But women, or supporters of diversity in general, should not sit on their laurels and come to expect such a battle against these age old issues. There have been many pieces of legislation to support women in work, which have played an important role in improving conditions. In my mind, though, with these challenges, change will not come from laws and regulations. It has to come from people, cultural shifts, new generational thinking and new ways of working

Now that we do have more women in senior roles, I find that it’s vital to play the ‘generosity game’ and send the elevator back down. I try and play this game once a day – one thing that can make a difference! When were you last late for work because you let one extra car out at that busy junction? When did it kill you to make that introduction to someone, which could have changed the course of that person’s entire career? When did you spontaneously take ten minutes and write someone a fabulous reference?

We already have a great culture of this: many and most women that I know in tech have worked with other women in the industry to support them. It’s really important to “do our bit” to help the next generation of digital entrepreneurs to not only achieve, but to surpass our expectations.

Another important task is to support a move away from traditional working patterns. Flexible working provides a great opportunity for both men and women to better manage a balance between their work and home life. For me, the notion that I can #workhardanywhere has helped me achieve a balance and build trust with colleagues and superiors based on the performance outcomes, rather than how many hours I’ve 'clocked up’.

But for all women to feel the benefits, organisations must do more than just offer a programme, andsupport a cultural shift, with the wider company embracing the end of the nine-to-five mentality. Men and women at the top, to help achieve this, must stand up against practices like “showing face” to ensure that those who work flexibly are as championed as their office-based counterparts. It is ok for any parent to walk out of the office at 2pm to pick up the kids…it really is! I strongly believe that productivity is a better measure than activity in the workplace.

Evening out the bumps in the road

Women are making waves throughout the technology industry – from the top to the bottom of nearly every business. The growing number of women taking on more senior roles testifies to this. But while the road is certainly more travelled, the route to success is frequently met with the same bumps and challenges.

To help support this generation of female leaders and the next, we must ensure that we support each other to build a culture where we are able to be ourselves and unashamedly strive to achieve our priorities – in and out of work. The continued struggles associated with being a female leader are just a waste of everyone’s time but also, perhaps, an opportunity to create a digital nation of significance if we choose to harness all of this fabulous talent…

J De Rojas imageThis article was written by Jacqueline De Rojas who has more than 25 years operational experience in the software industry and is the President of techUK. She recently landed a role at Sage to lead the UK and Ireland business. She will leave her current role at Citrix in September to take charge of a 2000 strong team at Sage UK&I, which is headquartered in Newcastle. At Citrix she led the Northern European business as general manager and area VP. She has held several executive roles at global enterprise software companies. In 2015 she was named Most Influential Woman in UK IT by Computer Weekly and this year made Debrett’s list of 500 people of influence on social media and digital. She also holds several board and advisory positions and is a non-executive director on the board of Home Retail Group PLC.