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Women in accounting demand workplace support and flexibility

Women in accounting are calling for greater workplace support and a better culture to improve their mental health and engagement at work.

Women in accounting demand workplace support and flexibility
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Accounting firms are facing difficulties in retaining women in senior leadership roles, a new study by Monash Business School researchers, associate professor Carly Moulang and Dr Alessandro Ghio from the Department of Accounting, found.

The research team set out to uncover why women leave a career in professional services prematurely, and
 found that despite women making up 48 per cent of employees in the finance and insurance sectors, just 37 per cent of them hold full-time management positions.  

Undertaking a survey of 203 women and conducting 31 in-depth interviews, researchers looked into supporting practices for women certified accountants from across Australia – including a broad cross-section of women from diverse backgrounds, demographics, ages and seniority in both urban and rural areas.

What they fund is that women in senior positions want their male partners to advocate for them and model greater workplace flexibility. 

“Leadership support is key in order to advocate workplace change. There was a real call for more part-time positions with more leadership roles available to be done part-time. The ability to share roles is also on their wish list,” Ms Moulang said.

She explained that many women experience work-life balance struggles despite existing policies enabling them to take time off work. 

“The crazy thing is that in many workplaces, while women may have plenty of time accrued, it’s not possible for them to take breaks until the project is finished. Doing so is seen as a ‘career suicide’ move. A consequence of this is that many women professionals then experience burnout,” Ms Moulang said.

“One respondent spoke of the wellness days on offer at her workplace, but they were only available once the work was completed. This was often too late as burnout was already there. In many instances, women commented that burnout is ‘expected’ in their workplace, rather than something their workplaces try to avoid

“The consequences of this approach have been devastating for many women, and have resulted in both psychological and physical repercussions, including hospitalisations."

Dr Ghio said, surprisingly, many women revealed they had to moderate their own behaviours, particularly in situations where they were the only woman in a meeting or on a committee.

“Women in professional firms feel like they have to behave in certain ways to maintain their career. Part-time work and job sharing, even leaving early to pick up the kids from school, is still seen to be frowned upon in many workplaces and in terms of limiting women’s potential for advancement,” Dr Ghio said.

“Many of the women we spoke to are considering not just leaving the organisation but the accounting profession altogether.

The researchers believe that their findings have relevant implications for the accounting 
industry, especially towards sparking a re-examination of practices aimed to support women in the workplace. They trust that this could also open the doors to improving psychological resources and wider acceptance of flexible working arrangement.

“The identification of potential sources of support to break the glass ceiling for women can lead organisations to incorporate the challenges of the current fast-changing economy and society, and improve outcomes for women, allowing them to flourish at work,” Ms Moulang concluded.

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