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How can the Accountancy & Finance industry champion diversity and inclusion?

By Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance 

For many industries the reality of diversity and inclusion in all its forms remains the ‘unicorn’ that is increasingly sought after, but persistently elusive. Whilst the gender mix in the Accountancy & Finance profession tends to be more or less equally balanced at entry level positions, the fact remains that as we rise through the ranks women become increasingly under-represented, with the Hays DNA of a Finance Leader report finding 75% of the finance leaders surveyed to be male.

This is a shortcoming that clearly needs addressing, with research showing time after time that greater workforce diversity increases company performance, cultivates a more positive culture and enhances connection to customers. In this sense, the rationale fits squarely with the business outcomes and so by championing diversity and inclusion, we are also championing the future success of an organisation.

1. Aptitude rather than attainment

The fact that many businesses often make hires based on the last job on a candidate’s CV may mean that more talented and competent female applicants than male are passed over because they have not had a steady course of uninterrupted career progression. To date, women have often held the traditional carer role in a family, and while shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 in order to help balance the scales, uptake is still generally low. Taking time off to care for ageing relatives is also becoming increasingly common, and often falls to women rather than men. These interruptions to a career make it more difficult for women to return to full time positions, particularly in finance.

Introducing competency based application processes can help to eliminate this perceived disadvantage by assessing softer skills such as communication, emotional intelligence, problem solving and self-motivation over up to date industry knowledge of finance regulations, which can be learnt more readily and updated more quickly than soft skills.

This would mean a fairer assessment of candidates regardless of gender, helping to lessen the damaging effect of career gaps on future career plans.

2. Tracking progress

The current demand for companies to be transparent about their practices, programmes and targets, with particular spotlight placed on the respective experiences of male and female employees, is of course at an all-time high.

The obligatory gender pay gap reporting for companies with over 250 employees is an example of how legislative auditing can track change against targets, and the pay gap in Accountancy & Finance, which is higher than many other sectors, is an issue that needs addressing as a matter of priority.

3. Flexi-time

Although flexible working is a working practice that has historically been the domain of mothers returning to work, it is now increasingly sought after by employees of all ages and genders, and for many comes top of the list of criteria when looking for a new job. The fact remains, however, that flexible working is still seen as something to be earnt through hard work and company loyalty rather than an optional working practice offered straight off the bat. By embracing more agile working practices, companies give themselves the advantage of a wider talent pool to choose from as well as greater employee engagement and retention.

4. Diversity & inclusion programmes

The findings of the Hays Gender Diversity Report 2017 show that 77% of employees believe sustained D&I initiatives are an important part of helping their organisation to attract the best talent. Education and training, employee affinity groups and structured return to work programmes are all initiatives whose benefits may not necessarily be immediately measureable, but should gradually drive changes to opportunities, encourage greater gender balance in the workplace, and enhance company performance.

Hays has recently been awarded the National Equality Standard (NES) for our dedication to making the workplace a more inclusive place. Our reports are designed to help other organisations achieve their diversity goals.

For more information or to discuss your recruitment needs, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

Karen is a Director and recruiting expert at Hays Accountancy & Finance. She provides strategic leadership to a team of 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across 100 UK offices. With 20 years of finance recruitment experience, Karen has a track record of recruiting top finance talent for businesses across a range of industry sectors, and is a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.

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