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Fewer women train to be accountants

The news concerns those encouraging more gender-balanced boardrooms

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Fewer women are training to become accountants, according to new research published this week, raising concerns the push to hire more women into senior executive roles may be stymied by a shrinking pipeline.

At four of the six main UK and Irish accountancy bodies the percentage of female students fell this year, according to an annual study carried out by the governance watchdog the Financial Reporting Council.

From 1996 until recently the percentage of women entering accountancy had been steadily rising, increasing from an overall total of 43 percent 15 years ago - when the FRC began recording the data - to a peak of 49 percent in 2008. In 2011 the figure fell to 48 percent.

Last year Lord Davies issued chairmen with an ultimate to hit a minimum target of 25 percent of women on FTSE 100 boards by 2015 or face a quota, after he said that at the current rate it would take 70 years to reach gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK.

The latest research on women on boards showed that the CFO role is the main route to the boardroom for women. Most female CFOs tend to hold an accountancy qualification.

Suzzane Wood, who specialises in board-level finance and non-executive assignments at search firm Russell Reynolds, told CFOWorld: "I understand from the Big Four that the female to male ratio at graduate entry is declining.”

She added that it was a "worrying" trend. The Big Four firms however denied female graduate numbers were falling. When graduates join the firms most enter a training contract to study one of the qualifications of the accountancy institutes so if numbers drop at institutes then firms should also see a fall.

Deloitte said in an emailed statement: “We haven’t seen a decline in female applicants to the graduate scheme. We have a 60:40 male/female split and this has remained constant over the last two to four years.”

At KPMG the firm said this year’s split was 55 percent male to 45 percent female, while PwC said they couldn’t provide the data but that it was “taking proactive measures to encourage women to look at accountancy as an option”.

According to the FRC’s latest ‘key facts and trends’ study, the number of female students fell from 41 percent to 38 percent at the English and Welsh accountancy institute, the ICAEW, between 2009 and 2011.

At the Scottish institute (ICAS) female numbers fell to 44 percent from 47 percent over the same period. EY train most of its students through ICAS.

Wood added: “There is a lot of evidence to suggest female qualified accountants are still not making it to the very top. And that whilst the gender debate is encouraging and supporting them to achieve this goal, it will take a few more years before we have sufficient talent to meet the boards’ requirements".


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