What Does the Big 4 Have That the Bulge Bracket Doesn't?

by Derek Loosvelt | June 30, 2011

Women.

businesswomenThat is, according to Vault's latest Accounting Survey (the full results of which will be unveiled later this summer), the percentage of women to men in the field of accounting is about 50/50. Whereas, as mentioned here previously, in the world of investment banking, the percentage is roughly 25/75.

Which is quite a significant difference, and can certainly be explained, at least partly, by the time-demand difference between careers in banking and accounting.

The common thinking is that women, more than men, seek careers with better work-life balance (a.k.a. fewer hours) due to the fact that they're more often than not the main caretakers of families (a.k.a. women are the ones bearing and, then, watching the kids). And investment banking, it's well known, often requires its junior employees to work 80- and 90-hour weeks. And, even at the highest levels, MD and above, it requires 60-hour workweeks in the office (in addition to, in some cases, frequent travel, not to mention numerous golf outings and 4-star dinners with clients).

Accounting, on the other hand, typically is no different than your average American corporate job with respect to hours -- at least, outside of tax season it is. While accountants at most levels will work between 40 and 50 hours per week (closer to 40) from April 16th until December 31st, from January 1st to April 15th, accountants will work between 50 and 60 hours each week. Which is not all that bad. But not all that good, either. (It's important to point out that investment banking salaries are typically 1.5 times that of accounting ones; plus, of course, there's that dirty word: "bonuses," which bankers get but, on average, accountants do not.)

More women in accounting than banking can also be partly explained by the offerings that the former industry provides its women in the workplace. According to accountants who took Vault's 2011 Accounting Survey, their firms offer extremely generous maternity leave (and, in some cases, paternity leave); do not look down upon or punish women who take their full maternity leave; offer numerous flex-time and part-time working arrangements; and provide strong mentoring, retention, and promoting programs for women.

What this has resulted in is not only more women at the junior level, but also more women at the senior level: numerous firms have a significant number of female partners and senior managers, many of which hold those positions due to the aforementioned policies.

However, this doesn't mean that accounting still doesn't suffer from some of the same things that investment banking does. Some accountants who took our survey report that their firms are still beholden to the "old boys' network" and, at the very top of the org chart, still consist mostly of white males. In addition, while diversity with respect to women gets nearly universally high marks from accountants, ratings in diversity with respect to minorities and GLBT individuals are on par with those in the banking industry -- that is, not so hot.

Overall, though, the field of public accounting seems to be an exemplary one when it comes to equal opportunities for women. And it's certainly, in this regard, kicking the sticks out of investment banking.

(Related: There Are Few Women in Banking Because There Are Too Many Weiners)

Filed Under: Finance


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