Women in finance and accounting take seven more years, on average than their male counterparts to reach executive level, as they battle with a ‘two-tournament gender system’ throughout their careers according to new research.

The slow path to the top: the careers of women in finance and accounting report commissioned by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and undertaken by King’s College London and the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council), compares the career trajectories of men and women in finance and accounting.

The research found that, while the careers of men and women in the sector initially progress in near-parallel, the careers of women decelerated in middle management, due primarily to limited peer sponsorship and a lack of high-profile projects or opportunities in comparison to men. It is at this stage of their career that women will take an average of seven years’ longer to progress up to the next tier – executive level – than their male counterparts.

Maggie McGhee, director of professional insights at ACCA said “While it is broadly acknowledged that the financial services sector has a long way to go to reach gender parity, with women occupying less than 20% of senior roles, this report is particularly interesting as it looks at the factors behind the seven-year lag that women are most likely to encounter when they reach middle management.”

“In particular, the research takes a closer look at the ‘confidence myth’, whereby the hindered progression of female employees is attributed to a lack of confidence or appetite to ‘lean in’, which then rationalises or hides the inequalities or unfair dynamics in the workplace which are actually at fault.”

The research concludes that for many women, this deceleration of career progression comes about as they are given fewer strategic, stretch assignments and opportunities than their male colleagues, and they lack the protection from workplace politics or exposure to higher level executives that male employees are more likely to receive from a more senior ‘sponsor’ or mentor.

McGhee concluded “We need this kind of research into the root causes behind workplace inequality to ensure that organisations are aware of any underlying impediments. It is every organisation’s responsibility to review the way they support and open up opportunities to women and other minorities.” The finance and accounting profession is committed to improving the workplace experience and progression prospects for women. We need to work together on a true, concerted effort to acknowledge long-standing embedded issues, rectify them, and bring about change.”