The Minority Interest: Women Who Succeed in the Accounting Profession

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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What kind of women make it to the top of the accountancy profession? How do they overcome obstacles and break through the glass ceiling? The Minority Interest: Women who Succeed in the Accountancy Profession, by Professor Patricia Barker looks at this question.

The book, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland, looks at the profile of women who make it to the top of the accountancy profession. Women now enter the profession as students in equal numbers to men. However, they still encounter barriers in achieving partnership. Additionally, they ‘quit’ the partnership track in greater numbers than men. The Minority Interest focuses instead on women who have overcome the obstacles and achieved partnership in their accountancy firms.

Common themes

Barker interviewed 43 women partners from the four largest firms in the world. She draws common themes from their stories. Some of these are:

  • The women came from mixed backgrounds. They had mothers who worked full-time in the home and had parents who supported them but did not push them.
  • Nearly all the women attended single-sex schools. They also had good academic records at school and at university.
  • These women displayed predominantly “masculine” characteristics. They were competitive, and also wanted financial independence. However, they felt less self-assured than their highly confident personas.
  • Many had decided not to have children or had deferred motherhood to pursue their careers. 45% of them had no children and a further 15% had only one child.
  • Over two-thirds (77%) were married or divorced. A husband was professionally useful. This includes for their support; there was no need to spend time meeting men; and a husband made socialising with male clients less open to misunderstanding.
  • They referred to the importance of having had male mentors themselves. However, they did not feel that they themselves were good mentors to young women.
  • Whilst they observed the importance of the ‘boys’ network’ in the profession, but they were reluctant to form a women’s network. They feared it would be misinterpreted as a ‘knitting circle’.
  • Although they planned their career track to partnership, they were less organised in their post-partnership career planning.


Anne Sexton

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