More women on top in finance

The number of female accountants who make it to CFO has risen, but does this reflect UK business as a whole?

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 19 Sep 2012
Although much focus has been placed on the lack of women directors in the UK, more females than ever are taking the top spots in finance says an accountancy body.

More than one in five (21%) of female chartered accountants hold the most senior finance roles in their organisation while 31% hold a managerial role, according to a joint report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and recruitment firm Robert Half.  This has risen from 17% and 26% two years ago, the report suggests.   

Why has there been a rise?  The answer may be that businesses have been more willing to allow flexible working in order to accommodate working mothers.  Women like French finance minister and IMF boss shoo-in Christine Lagarde have also boosted women’s profile and encouraged more females to aim for the top positions, the ICAEW says.  

Then there’s how women choose to approach business. Lagarde said last year that during her 30-year career she’d noticed that women inject ‘less libido into the equation,’ leading them to make more level-headed decisions, while men’s testosterone and ego can make them prone to taking things personally.  

Nevertheless, campaigners for women in business argue the glass ceiling still exists in the UK.  Although outright discrimination against women in the workplace is long gone, some say there is often a subtle bias away from the fairer sex which prevents women from reaching the top.  A review by Lord Davies three months ago found that women make up just one in eight of the boards of the UK’s 100 largest companies, while 18 FTSE 100 companies didn’t have any women on their board at all.  

So the higher number of women in the top spots in finance doesn’t necessarily reflect the workplace in general, although it does seem that things are improving for women.  Despite what Lagarde says, perhaps a bit of ego is needed for women to make that final assault on the corporate summit.  She’ll probably need some if she is to take on the IMF role…

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