Special report: Results from the CAW mid-career women research study
Breaking the glass ceiling
The term “glass ceiling” was first coined in 1978 by management consultant and diversity campaigner Marilyn Loden. She was working for the New York Telephone Co when she was invited to join a panel on “female advancement” at a conference in NYC. Loden, the event’s final speaker, reflected on what the other panellists had said about why many women didn’t go as far in their careers as their male peers. Their observations were, she later said, laden with lazy stereotypes, such as women’s supposed lack of drive. Loden countered, insisting there were cultural barriers and women would often come up against an “invisible glass ceiling”.
Significant progress has been made since then. In 2022, 40% of board members across the FTSE 350 were female. Accountancy was once a male-dominated profession; now there is a roughly equal split among practising accountants in the UK, as well as among ICAS students. Further analysis, however, reveals that only 18% of FTSE 350 CFOs are female and, as recently as 2020, only one-fifth of senior roles across the top 100 accountancy firms were occupied by women. “I thought I would be finished with this by the end of my lifetime, but I won’t be,” said Loden in 2018. She passed away last year.
This special report champions the women who have scaled the heights of our profession, including Bank of England CFO, Afua Kyei CA, who talks to ICAS CEO, Bruce Cartwright CA, about her career and the unique challenge of managing a £1trn balance sheet. Read here.
We also hear from women in the profession on what businesses and individuals can do to ensure talent rises to the top. Read here.
Plus, we publish the results of the Chartered Accountants Worldwide mid-career survey, which reveals what female CAs see as the barriers preventing them from smashing through that glass ceiling. Read below.
Chartered Accountants Worldwide has carried out a new research study across seven countries to find out why women so often hit the glass ceiling at some stage in their career. What are the barriers to further progress? And what can individuals and companies do to help women smash through them? CA magazine delves into the findings
As befits an international organisation representing chartered accountants, the study is a truly global one. It
was carried out by strategic insight agency Magenta with 3,553 respondents from across seven territories: England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and Singapore. Respondents were grouped into three categories: mid-career (qualified in the period 2002–2012) and senior-level women (qualified pre-2002), and mid-career men.
- 8 in 10 women say they have a lot to offer the profession despite being a parent, and that ambition doesn’t reduce with parenthood
- 7 in 10 women believe they can obtain a senior position
- 29% of women feel the management style of superiors and company culture are prohibitive to their career
- 25% of women say a lack of time off to care for children is a barrier to career progression
- 36% of mid-career women highlight flexible hours or working location as an important enabler
- 75% of mid-career women say a supportive line manager and/or working on new projects has the biggest impact on career progression
- 67% say they want a mentor to support and guide them
What did we learn?
“Throughout their career, women are significantly more likely to experience barriers to their career progression,” says Dr Sarah Jenkins, Managing Director of Magenta. Jenkins highlights a sense among women that, as well as having to put up with office micro-aggressions, they are not given equal access to new projects outside their comfort zone. Whereas men demanding fresh opportunities might be admired for showing ambition, women feel they are expected to simply accept the status quo. Networking events, which often occur in places and at times that aren’t ideal for women, can also be a problem.
On a more positive note, Jenkins says: “The chartered accountancy profession really offers a lot more opportunity than women realise when they’re in their more junior levels. By the time they hit their mid- and late career, they understand they can move into other areas of the industry.”
Being a woman and a parent is where most barriers apply
Being a working parent requires flexibility, adaptability and empathy from colleagues. Assumptions can be made about having less capability in work, yet the presence of children actually boosts ambition to reach senior positions.
Supportive line managers play a vital role, and mentors are desired
Managers who support, and talk and listen to, women are highly valued and often shape the type of managers the women become.
Industry can often meet more of mothers' needs
With more supportive policies in place for working parents, and a culture that allows greater work-life balance, industry can empower mid-career women as they move from being one of many, to being "the one".
Mid- and late-career women have a strong desire to support other women
Recognising the difficulties they've face, mid- and late-career women want to see a change for those coming up behind them and are keen to be ambassadors for women in the profession.
The benefits of institutes are recognised with experience
As women progress through their career, the importance and role of their institute increases. Women seek greater emotional support as they navigate their career, ensuring they feel supported and remain stimulated.
Where do we go from here?
Chair of Chartered Accountants Worldwide’s EDI taskforce and CA magazine Executive Editor, Sarah Speirs, says: “This study has shown there is still more we need to do to foster female ambition within the profession and drive change. This is a global issue that concerns all of us irrespective of country and culture. At a time when retention is a key issue for employers, we must work together to find solutions to harness the huge talent pool of mid-career women, as well as ensuring the profession remains a viable and attractive option to young women.”
Read the Mapping Women's Career Journey report in full