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‘We’re all responsible’: accountants called to lead change in pay parity

Accountants have been urged to continue to press for change as new figures reveal a slight improvement in female board representation in Australia.

Business Katarina Taurian and Jotham Lian 09 March 2018
— 3 minute read

To coincide with International Women’s Day, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) has released new figures for the first two months of 2018, revealing that women now account for 26.7 per cent of ASX 200 directorships.


The new figures are an improvement compared to the 25.4 per cent representation at 31 August 2017, but are still well short of the AICD’s 30 per cent target by the end of 2018.

Further, women accounted for 47 per cent of ASX 200 board appointments in the first two months of 2018, up from a sluggish 36 per cent in 2017.

The report also revealed that the number of ASX 200 companies which have no women around the board table now stands at only five, down from 14 last International Women’s Day.

“Today’s report reveals that 2018 has seen the highest rate of female appointments to ASX 200 boards since the AICD began tracking gender diversity statistics,” said AICD chair Elizabeth Proust.

“While this news is encouraging, it is only reflective of the first two months of 2018. We’ll need sustained momentum of this kind if we are to reach our goal of 30 per cent female representation across the ASX 200 by the end of the year.

“The boards of our largest companies have 10 months to prove to the community that they take the issue of gender diversity seriously.”

“No good reasons” for pay gap

The accounting industry has been in the firing line with regards to its commitment to gender parity, given the notable pay gaps between men and women in most accounting-based roles in Australia.

Big four firms in Australia have historically had women significantly underrepresented at partner and executive level. In recent years, the larger firms have moved to implement gender-based targets and more flexible work arrangements, but continue to struggle converting equality at the graduate intake level to equality at the management level.

EY chief executive Tony Johnson said the big four firm would be aiming to tackle the unconscious bias that exists to level the pay gap, while pushing for a set target of 30 per cent female partners and 30 per cent women in senior leadership positions by 2020. Like its rivals, EY has not had a history of parity in leadership positions.

“It’s no secret women are more likely to take paid parental leave, and when our talent team was combing through the data, they identified a gender pay gap caused when women on paid parental leave did not receive scheduled salary increases while they were on leave,” Mr Johnson said.

“The team also found when returning from leave, the women didn’t have enough time to demonstrate performance to justify a salary increase during the next review cycle, effectively creating a two-year pay penalty for taking a year’s leave,” he added.

Fellow big four firm PwC has set a target of a minimum of 40 per cent women among new partners, a target it hit in its last intake. PwC has struggled to push past cultural barriers of targets and non-traditional working arrangements, as it looks to push past its history of male-dominated executive leadership.

“The accounting industry in Australia, like other sectors, continues to make slow progress in closing the gender pay gap and changes in attitude,” PwC chief diversity and inclusion officer, Julie McKay told Accountants Daily.

“The gender pay gap is often driven by entrenched, subconscious attitudes and the outcomes those create.  In addition, women’s pay also suffers from the higher likelihood of women to take career breaks for child or elder care duties, which in a traditional linear career model, tends to slow their progress.

Likewise, mid-tier firm BDO believes the accounting industry has “more work to do” in achieving gender equality and believes boardroom diversity will only lead to better outcomes for both the business and their clients.

“Like most industries, the accounting industry still has more work to do to encourage more women into the profession,” said BDO chair Helen Argiris.

“I’d say flexibility is key to attracting and retaining high calibre people and it allows men and women to achieve the balance of their work, home and lifestyle commitments that everyone is striving for these days.

“Our clients are at the heart of what we do and it is important that they experience the expertise and different perspectives that both men and women bring to a business situation.”

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‘We’re all responsible’: accountants called to lead change in pay parity
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