Workplace flexibility in the accounting sector

Workplace Flexibility in the Accounting Sector (pd…
01 Jun 2010

Case study research by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, June 2010

Key Results


• The majority of accountancy staff from graduates to senior managers are women, while the majority of partners and associates are men.

• Many qualified and experienced women ‘disappear’ long before making the step up to partnership.

• There are some positive developments in the accounting sector but there does not appear to be widespread concern or planning for the demographic and skills challenges the sector faces.

• Flexibility is often focused only on the ‘Mummy track’ i.e. letting women work part-time while caring for children.

• Working long hours is the norm in the sector and regarded as fundamental to career progression and to business profitability.

• Long hours at partnership and associate level are considered necessary mainly due to the need to spend time with clients, and are cited as the main reason why more women do not reach partnership. However, two firms operating flexible work practices have succeeded in educating clients to accept a different way of working.

• There was some evidence that long hours are not productive, and that the advent of technology enabling staff to work anywhere and anytime can make the long hours culture worse.

• There is an assumption that ‘doing things differently’, including adopting flexible work practices, will have a negative impact on profitability. Yet firms that do adopt flexible work practices as core to their working structure experience bottom line benefits. For example, BDO Taranaki ranked in the top ten in the Waikato interfirm survey and the highest outside the main centres.

• Leadership of the firm appears to play a key part in the way flexibility is perceived.

• Many reasons are given for not adopting flexible work practices or for flexible work practices ‘failing’, including: missing skills and expertise when a person is out of the office; client demand for immediate response and 24/7 availability; confidentiality considerations mitigating against working from home; whether staff could be trusted not to abuse the privilege; staff working shorter hours missing out on more challenging work.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018