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Women Attracted to Accounting Firms for Flexibility Despite ‘Old Boys’ Network’ at the Top

Our friends at Vault are curating the data for this year’s rankings to be released later this summer but they’ve got a little teaser for us that they published last week. They found that the number of women in accounting is roughly double of those in investment banking, the explanation being that “that women, more than men, seek careers with better work-life balance […] due to the fact that they’re more often than not the main caretakers of families,” as well as “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.

The finding that “[firms] do not look down upon or punish women who take their full maternity leave” and “strong mentoring, retention, and promoting programs for women” are contradictory to the recent lawsuit filed by Donna Kassman, a former KPMG Senior Manager, who has sued the firm for $350 million gender-discrimination lawsuit. Her allegations include KPMG’s “[failure] to properly investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination and harassment,” that her salary was cut when she went on maternity leave and that she was subjected to numerous instances of harassment and discrimination. Whether this one example illustrates a systemic problem is debatable as the Vault survey includes a large pool of respondents (Vault doesn’t have the tally yet) who seem to have responded positively to question of gender opportunity but the allegations are severe and are a blow to the KPMG’s (and the Big 4 at large) marketing machine of gender promotion and equality. KPMG has stated that Kassman’s lawsuit is without merit.

Despite the positive findings, the survey respondents didn’t have all good things to say. Turns out, “some” respondents believe that the leadership at accounting firms are the professional services firm equivalent of Augusta National Golf Club:

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.

That and “minorities and GLBT individuals are on par with those in the banking industry — that is, not so hot.”

Overall, this take on women’s fondness of the accounting industry is certainly more believable than the Times‘ piece on the culture of work-life balance since it collected responses directly from those who work in the biz rather than going to the firms for the story.

Ladies, what do you think of the results? Do you have all the opportunities of your male counterparts and the flexibility with no strings attached or do you still get the feeling that the deck is stacked in favor of the bros?

What Does the Big 4 Have That the Bulge Bracket Doesn’t? [Vault]