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Charting a New Course: Navigating Inclusivity and Flexibility in the Accounting Sector

By Natalie Field, founder of Natalie Field Accountancy.

As the echoes of this year’s International Women’s Day fade into the background, I thought it offered a perfect opportunity to ponder our industry’s commitment to inclusivity all year round. Managing a small remote accountancy firm, alongside collaborating with TaxScouts, all while navigating the highs and lows of having a young family, has given me a unique lens through which to view our profession. And if there’s one thing I’ve come to realise, it’s that flexibility isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’, or a ‘perk’, it’s a necessity.

Looking back at my early career, it was very apparent that employers had a vested interest in whether or not I planned to have a family. There is no doubt in my mind that I have been turned down for roles as I would be more of a ‘risk’ to the stability of the business than a male candidate. There was also a general feeling of having less opportunities, mainly at firms with all-male, or male dominated senior management teams. Women never seemed to get past a certain level and the shadow of the glass ceiling certainly meant that aspirations to become a partner seemed fruitless.

But despite this, accounting continued to appeal. It’s an industry where challenge and problem-solving reign supreme – independent of gender. It’s an industry I’ve grown to love and champion. But the question looms – what can make this field more inviting to women?

Luckily the landscape of accounting has evolved from my early career days, where you’d be expected to be at your desk between 9 and 5 (if not longer) and remote working was certainly never an option. However, there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

A recent survey by TaxScouts of their female accountants revealed an optimistic statistic – 88% view accounting as a viable career path for women, largely thanks to enhanced flexibility (88%) and the growing acceptance of hybrid or remote working (47%). This is a huge milestone for anyone who’s been in the industry as long as I have but it’s certainly not a cue to pop the champagne just yet. Despite these stats, nearly half of the women surveyed still report feeling constrained by a glass ceiling in career progression. And while a significant 71% acknowledge improvements in female representation across the industry, an identical percentage see room for further progress. Clearly, we’ve made strides, but the finish line is still a way off.

From personal experience, the key to attracting and retaining female talent in accounting is multifaceted. Competitive pay, career progression, mentorship, substantial maternity benefits, childcare support and fundamentally – flexible working arrangements. It’s the lack of those factors that propelled me towards setting up my own business.

The pre-pandemic era underscored the limitations of traditional roles characterised by inflexibility and sparse opportunities for remote work. Venturing into my own remote business, coupled with the dynamic opportunities working with TaxScouts offers, was a liberating step towards the autonomy I needed. It allowed me to blend professional responsibilities with family life seamlessly.

However, my story is just one among many. True inclusivity extends beyond the capability to work from a home office or to tailor your working hours. It’s about visibility and representation. For genuine inclusion to take root, we need to amplify the presence of women in leadership roles who exemplify success through flexible working conditions. It’s about setting the stage with role models, mentors, and leaders who not only inspire but also blaze the trail for the next wave of female accountants.

Furthermore, inspiring inclusion encompasses more practical aspects as well – nearly a third of the survey participants expressed a desire for greater pay transparency and enhanced support for childcare. These factors are crucial to creating a workplace that genuinely welcomes women.

The path towards a more welcoming accounting industry for women is going to be a journey, but this year, I am viewing it with an unwavering optimism. By pushing for initiatives that enrich work-life balance as well as celebrating the achievements of women in our industry, we’re laying the groundwork for a better accountancy sector that’s diverse and fair. This should be the ultimate goal, not just on International Women’s Day but every day.

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