Julia Irvine 19 Mar 2019 12:51pm

EY leads on gender balance in top roles

EY is first among accountancy firms when it comes to gender balance at the top – six of the 14 posts on its executive committee are held by women, three of them in line leadership roles

According to the first gender balance score card for the accountancy profession, compiled by gender balance consultancy 20-First, the Big Four firm is the only one to have reached “the balanced zone” or a maximum of 60% of either gender.

The rest of the Big Four are not far behind though. In second place comes KPMG, with a leadership team comprising five women and nine men, while PwC and Deloitte both have four women on their boards alongside eight men.

All four have at least half their women members in line or operational roles – including country or business unit heads.

The example set by the Big Four needs to filter down through the rest of the top 10 firms. For a brief moment Grant Thornton looked as it might be the top 10’s gender champion when it became the first of the firms to appoint a woman to the role of chief executive. However, Sacha Romanovitch’s early departure last year leaves all the top posts in the top 10 firms firmly back in men’s hands.

Of the six “challenger” firms, only two – Smith & Williamson and Mazars – have more than one woman on their management boards. Both have two women each, but only one of the four has an operational role.

Grant Thornton, BDO, RSM and Saffery Champness have just one woman each in their executive teams.

Nevertheless, compared to the world’s corporate gender balance record, as a group the leading accountancy firms are faring rather well. Of the 99 people on the top 10’s management boards, 73% are men and 27% of them are women. This, as 20-First points out, is much better than the Fortune Global 500’s top 20 companies which have 85% men and 15% women on their boards.

Compared to the FTSE 100, however, they are way behind. The latest available figures from the Hampton-Alexander Review (November 2018) show that the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen to 30.2%, not far short of the target of 33% by 2020.

The accountancy firms are ahead of the FTSE 250 companies though: they have only reached 24.9% women on their boards.

20-First’s co-managing director Laura Stuart-Berry says the firms need to work harder. “Only one of the 10 firms has a balanced leadership team and there is a considerable divide between the Big Four and the mid-tier firms.

“Those firms are missing out on leveraging 100% of the potential market and optimising 100% of the talent. This isn’t a moral question, it’s a strategic imperative and the business case is compelling,” she adds. “It’s time to stop trying to fix the women and time to start empowering leaders to fix the system – there are big prizes for those firms that are up to the task.”

Stuart-Berry warns that she will be keeping an eye on the firms’ gender balance statistics and hopes that there will be a different story to tell next year.