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Internationally, women make up a significant percentage of accountants and auditors. According to statistics from Accountancy Age's last survey from 2020, nearly half of all qualified accountants around the world were female at the time (45.47%). This is echoed by statistics from ACCA this year that state women account for approximately 46% of all accountants and auditors in the UK. And according to CPA Australia, over 50% of their accountants are women.

So, we know that around the world, pretty much half the accountants and auditors in the industry are women. This is progress from earlier years, but there is still much to be done when it comes to women in leadership roles in the industry. The Accountancy Age survey showed that only 1 in 5 women in accountancy are in leadership roles. And CPA Australia says that despite many women joining the profession in recent years, they are yet to see equal representation at a leadership level. Women only hold 32.5% of management positions in Australian accounting firms.

There have, however, been steps taken to align gender disparity. For example, ICAEW in the UK has launched several initiatives over recent years in an effort to bridge the gap, including the Women in Leadership Community as well as a Women in Leadership Programme. The US has done the same with its networking groups such as The Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance.

So, have any of the initiatives for women to be more visible at leadership level in accountancy actually come to fruition?

Well, EY announced in mid-November that Janet Truncale has been elected the next EY Global Chair and CEO, effective from 1 July 2024. This is the first time a woman has been elected as CEO to a Big Four firm, making her one of the most senior women in the corporate world. Interestingly outside of EY, Janet paves the way for other women as senior leaders. She serves as the Board Chair for Women's World Banking, a global non-profit devoted to giving more low-income women access to critical financial tools. She is also on the Board of Directors of UNICEF USA and serves as a managing trustee for Liberty Science Center, a not-for-profit learning center dedicated to inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Turning back to professional bodies and the ICAEW in the UK, their immediate past president is Julia Penny. Julia was the fourth female president of ICAEW. In an article from the Institute earlier this year, Julia commented on the Institute's theme of attracting talent and building diversity, saying that she is passionate about ensuring that no members are held back due to a lack of opportunity. "I'm trying to make sure as much as possible that those coming behind me have more open doors than even I did. Business is about people, not about numbers, and we live in a diverse world. We might all try to be perfect but that's not going to happen. So, we need to learn from our failures as well as our successes, and we need to help others too."

Mentioned in the 2023 Top 50 Women in Accounting Awards, sponsored by Ignition, is Alice Ruhe, Principal at SMB Advisory in Brisbane Australia. Alice has practiced in the insolvency and corporate recovery industry for over 20 years and is a registered trustee in bankruptcy and a registered liquidator. Alice says "I am a true believer in providing clear and relevant communication to stakeholders and acknowledge that more often than not things are not always quite as they seem." Alice is also a fellow of Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand, a member of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA) and the Turnaround Management Association (TMA).

So, there is progress, and women who step into roles at a senior level seem eager to pave the way for other women to do the same, which is significant. But, there is still lots of work to be done. As well as addressing the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, there are other issues like the gender pay gap, and the challenges that women face in balancing their careers and family responsibilities.

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