Is it true that the Big 4 aren’t promoting women?

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The FT has reported a survey by Accountancy magazine that shows the proportion of women at the "Big Four" accountancy firms who were made partners this year dropped by a third from 2006 in spite of efforts to attract and retain women in senior roles.

Analysis by Accountancy magazine to be published this week shows that of those promoted this year, only 14 per cent were women, down from 21 per cent last year. Chris Quick, Accountancy's editor-in-chief said:

One of the major problems is that women tend to start families at around the same time they're thinking of partnership. If firms want women at the top, they'll have to show them it's possible to combine the two

That may be true. But I doubt it. In my practice career I never had a male partner. Indeed, at one time I was the only man in my firm. So I know something about women and accountancy practice. And the reason why women aren't making partner in these firms is not that they aren't good enough. They are. But they don't want to play the games these firms promote.

That's not just a problem with macho atmospheres, or childcare and work life balance, though these are real enough. In my experience women ask themselves "If I'm giving up time with my family to do this is what I'm doing worthwhile?" And the answer for many of them when looking at what the Big 4 do will be a resounding "No".

And they're right. That's the problem these firms have to resolve.