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EY Thinks Its Women Can Make or Break Their Careers On the Golf Course

It’s been years since the show ended but I started a rewatch of Mad Men recently, and when I came across the article I’m about to share with you, I couldn’t help but think of a particular scene. This episode aired 13 years ago (yikes) so I’m hoping none of you will need a spoiler alert, nor am I going to spend the next four paragraphs explaining the premise of the show for those unfortunate souls who have never seen it at all. You should get the gist.

In “Maidenform,” newly-minted copywriter Peggy is struggling to squeeze her way into the boys club. Literally, her male co-workers come up with ad concepts at extracurricular happy hours to which she isn’t invited, and when she finally realizes that she’s never going to get an invite, she crashes an after-hours party at a titty bar. Mind you this was the ’60s when things were wildly different. In a later season she mentions to a date how many of the clubs her colleagues meet with clients at have a strict “No Girls Allowed” policy, telling him that one was willing to make an exception for her if she arrives in a cake.

In the end Peggy carved herself a nice little spot in her chosen field, and women like her certainly paved the way for the sneaker-clad, linebacker-shouldered power executives of the ’80s. While the “lady boss” of the ’80s became a cliche almost as tired as their shoulder pads themselves, I know for myself and my fellow elderly millennials growing up in the ’80s and ’90s these women set a powerful example. Unlike our parents, we didn’t grow up in a world where a woman couldn’t have her own bank account. We were surrounded by women who had an entire universe of options in front of them, not just the “get married, have kids” of Peggy’s era.

For all the progress of the last 60 years, it seems there is still a boys club and modern-day Peggy Olsons trying desperately to be invited to it.

Across the pond, The Times ran an article the other week talking specifically about how women at EY are missing out—not at the titty bar like our dear Miss Olson but rather on the green:

It is understood that a female partner who joined recently from overseas feared that so much internal networking took place between male partners on the golf course that there was a risk women would be excluded from making any decisions.

Female consultants in a London-based division have been offered golf lessons so that they don’t miss out on networking opportunities.

See? Exactly what happened in “Maidenform,” with Peggy struggling to even interact with the client outside of the office. Although in her case all it took was a short dress and a figurative set of brass balls to elbow her way in.

For the academics among us, you may find research on the matter of particular interest. From Golf, networking, and accounting education: A gendered approach published in the Journal of Accounting Education September 2020:

Although golf is recognized for its potential role in networking and relationship-building within business and accounting, this area has potential diversity issues. One such issue is that golf is perceived as primarily a male pastime. Consistent with that perception, the National Golf Foundation reports that approximately 24% of golfers are female (Beditz & Kass, 2010). The inequality women face based on the ability to network on the golf course can limit opportunities and hinder career advancement (Janiak, 2003). To the extent that golf is a less-effective networking tool for women than men, golf can be a barrier to success for women in professions like accounting that require extensive networking for career progression (Arthur, DelCampo, & van Buren, 2011)

So once again we are confronted with the age-old problem in accounting. Of course the profession wants to be more diverse, but is the status quo as it stands today welcoming to the individuals who contribute to said diversity?

We know from demographics that the profession has no problem attracting women at the entry and early career levels. You yourself probably know this from thinking back to your college accounting courses or the latest batch of interns at the office back when there was an office. But we also know it from the AICPA’s Trends report [PDF], which tells us that at the bachelor level, men and women are about equal, and actually in 2018 more women graduated master’s programs than men. For all intents and purposes though, let’s say they’re about even.

via AICPA 2019 Trends in the supply of accounting graduates and the demand for public accounting recruits

Where it all falls apart is further up the ladder, which we also know. Women make up 23% of CPA firm partners, making the top of the ladder still overwhelmingly male (and white, but that’s a topic for another day). No matter what flowery language is used in glowing press releases about diversity, the numbers speak for themselves. Something is making women nope out. According to The Times article, culture fit — or rather the lack thereof — is a big part of it.

Ina Kjaer, 46, a former KPMG partner, said it was “absolutely” an advantage at the so-called Big Four firms to be good at sports, such as golf or skiing.

Kjaer, who left KPMG in 2019 to set up EOS Deal Advisory, a rival firm with a less “macho” culture, said that golf lessons could “perpetuate” the problem rather than solve them.

“If you don’t fit in to what they think the thing is that you should fit in with . . . you can be as good as you want but you won’t get on,” she said.

EY declined to comment on The Times article. They’re probably still a little raw from the whole pancake brain fiasco and lying low for a bit on the topic of executive women.

Sharp Shoulders Break Glass Ceilings [Slate, Aug 2018]
Golf, networking, and accounting education: A gendered approach [Journal of Accounting Education, Sep 2020]
What women need to rise in the accounting profession [Journal of Accountancy, July 2020]
Mad Men: “Maidenform” [A.V. Club, Aug 2008]