The Women’s Professional Ghetto

The article started off interesting. I was going to blog that PwC should not throw stones when they live in a glass house...

However it took a turn for the worse when I realized it was an ad for two women’s efforts to marginalize professional women and perpetuate the myth that all women deserving of senior roles are also mommies who need flexible hours and to be able to make “school runs.” The attitude also sets up an obstacle to women in top jobs making equal or more money than a male counterpart. “Don’t you want more flexibility for less pay? What do you need that much for? Doesn’t your husband have a good job?” You risk seeming a workaholic shrew if you say you want what the job should rightly pay anyone who is qualified. What about the woman professional who’s more like the men? Who’s willing to travel, to work the hours, to take her position seriously, as a vocation?

At PwC, my impression was that the younger women who were at the Senior Manager/Director or Partner level that were buying this work/life/family balance crap were being “sold a bill of goods.” If you were smart enough to be at that level and had put in the time and effort to gain the experience, why wouldn’t you go for all the responsibility and rewards you could? If you don’t want it, get out and make room for others who do.

A Senior Manager or Partner who can’t spend full time on their audit clients, in this day and age of fraud, Sarbanes-Oxley, mismanagement and increased liability to the firms is putting everyone at risk – themselves, their firm, their clients and their staff. How can you keep an eye on the client or your fellow partners if your priorities are elsewhere? I saw a few instances where the whole layer of management under some senior partners was women who were having babies and working reduced hours. How is that good for clients or their staff? It seemed to me that in some cases, these senior male partners were deliberately setting up these women to be loyal, to owe a debt of gratitude for allowing them to “have it all.” They would probably not question the partner’s decisions or judgement, since their careers and flexible arrangements depended on their generosity. And these senior partners were also in no danger of their positions being threatened by a woman who is was smart or smarter than they are and who was willing to put in as much time or more to do a good job.

As Barbara Toffler points out in her book about Enron and Arthur Andersen (page 192-194), “Final Accounting” a firm that has their core staff believing that their primary stakeholder is the Partner is a firm that is doomed to make mistakes and lose their focus on their public purpose.

And entrepreneurship doesn’t take less time, it just bleeds business time into personal time so that you can’t tell the difference. I call it the “convergence” of your personal and professional goals and interests. Senior jobs should be held by those who want to put in the time and effort. Your clients deserve it, your employers deserve it and your staff deserve it.

100% of the ability, 60% of the pay: agency targets top women looking for flexibility

“Government attempts to encourage women to remain in work and reach top-level positions have repeatedly failed. A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed a 40% fall in women holding senior management positions at the 350 biggest companies listed on the stock market and blamed the rising costs of childcare and a new-found entrepreneurial streak among women.

But two businesswomen believe they can make a difference. Shirley Soskin, a former public relations adviser, and Kate Grussing, a former Wall Street investment banker and one-time McKinsey management consultant, have set up a headhunting agency to find senior roles with flexible hours for bank and corporate executives.

Flexibility and seniority have not traditionally gone together. The Equal Opportunities Commission is convinced inflexible, traditional working patterns are driving women to set up on their own. The government’s labour force survey supports this. The number of self-employed women has risen 18% in five years to more than 1 million. The gender pay gap is also a problem. Women working full time receive 17% less than male counterparts while part-timers are paid on average 37% less…

This month the government outlined yet another new initiative. Ruth Kelly, the women’s minister, announced the creation of a fund to provide grants to companies such as Tesco, Kelloggs and Royal Mail, to encourage the creation of senior part-time management jobs and give women confidence to choose a better work-life balance. Kelly said: “This fund is designed to show employers that women can balance climbing the career ladder with their home lives.”

Soskin’s and Grussing’s Sapphire Partners, set up two years ago, has about 1,000 candidates on its books, 90% of whom are women. Their average salary in full-time work would be at least £80,000 but Grussing says most would accept less money to work flexibly.
The women, both in their 40s, make it clear they do not find jobs with pre-set hours and fixed going-home times. “Where this won’t work is when people say they want to work 10am-2pm so that they can do all the school runs,” says Soskin. Equally, they expect employers not to try to wring out more than they pay for.

Their light and airy office in Covent Garden in central London now has support staff and they recently hired a new recruiter – on flexible hours – to place candidates in legal jobs. They say flexible working can work well for employers too, provided they measure “output rather than ‘presenteeism'”.

Status and titles go out of the window in return for flexible hours. The toughest jobs on reduced hours are client-facing roles. They have had to convince employers to take on highly qualified people who want to work flexibly, particularly those who held senior roles…”

3 replies
  1. robert
    robert says:

    are you saying that women in high profile, high risk jobs such as big 4 audit partners shouldnt have flex hours or are you saying that they are being penalized because they do

  2. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    Thanks, Robert, for your comment/question. I am saying that anyone (man or woman) in or desirous of a high profile, demanding position such as a client service partner in a professional services firm, (one that requires focus and commitment to your firm, your clients, your staff and your fellow partners) should not expect to be able to work part-time indefinitely or without consequence. Salaried professionals at many companies and firms have often been given the benefit of the doubt on personal time, extra time and compensating time off. I have no problem with that. At this level, one shoud be able to take responsibility for getting the job done without having to count hours to prove it. However, to expect to have a partner level or senior management position without accepting the full responsiblity for it seems to me to be cheating. Those that think they are doing the job without having to accept the full obligation to devote their primary attention to it are fooling themselves. And they will be penalized, because when you “take your eye off the ball” too often, you drop it or someone steals it from you. It is rare that one can do a partner level job well, let alone better than others when priorites have shifted, however well intentioned.

  3. robert
    robert says:

    Thank you for your clear and well thought response. You are taking a controverial but I believe accurate position. Bottom line, something is going to give on the professional side. I suspect the large accounting firms don’t put a flex person (at or near partner level) on a highly sensitive, high profile or high risk client for those very reasons

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