Female Partners at the Big Four

8 October 2012 | Leave a comment

Big 4Just as I find it odd John Humphreys talking with detachment on the Today programme about BBC misdemeanours – as though this ‘BBC’ is something distant and not his employer – I find myself wondering whether professional consulting firms like KPMG have forgotten what is happening in their own organisation when they publish insight papers such as Female CFOs in Singapore (how Singapore seems to be doing better than other countries in promoting women to senior roles). Last week The Times (October 2nd 2012) reported that of KPMG’s 592 partners, just 14% were women. That’s a shocking disparity considering men and women are equally likely to be recruited to such firms after university. In reading articles such as Female CFOs in Singapore with the knowledge that all is not gender balanced in the publisher’s organisation I find myself looking for a disclaimer at the bottom saying just that and moreover what they are doing to address it. Sadly, it is not there.

KPMG isn’t alone though. Of Deloitte’s 990 partners 14% are women, the same proportion as at Grant Thornton. Women are doing marginally better at PWC (15% of the 900 partners) and Ernst & Young faired best of all with 17% of 549. The latter is also investing maternity comeback coaching which Joanna Santinon, the partner sponsor for the women’s network at E&Y, says she valued.

What I hope is on the agenda of the Heads of Equality & Diversity at these firms is a spot of Appreciative Inquiry (see the work of Professor David Cooperrider). That is, finding out what’s happening in the areas within their organisation where women are making partner. Those 14% are likely to have some common experiences  that could be shared more widely within the business to create a culture where more women make it. I suspect the line managers that the female partners have worked with over the years have played a significant role in their advancement.

Recently I have had conversations with heads of Talent and Equality & Diversity about how to shape manager behaviours to fuel female career success. One such organisation commissioned Jessica Chivers Consulting to produce a manager guide to ensuring the smooth return of maternity leavers. Whilst there’s a compelling case for maternity comeback coaching, which helps women get make a successful transition back into the workplace, there’s more to do on the environment to which they return.

If I was the MD of any of those firms I’d also want to know how many of that 14-17% had children. I suspect a much greater proportion of female partners are childless compared to their male counterparts and that’s a suspicion worth exploring and addressing given the talent shortage predicted by McKinsey.

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