The effect of gender on professional accountant’s career progression

Published 23 Feb 2017


Background information

This is a critical review of the paper, ‘The effect of gender and dependent children on professional accountant’s career progression’ by Carolyn Windsor and Pak Auyeung of the Griffith Business School, Griffith University published 2006 in the journal, ‘Critical Perspectives on Accounting’. The study analyses responses of 183 participants and focuses on women’s career progression to show that there is discrimination in the promotion of accountants and that management levels and positions are largely based on gender and presence of dependent children with the study mainly conducted in Singapore and Australia (Windsor & Auyeung, 2006; p 828).

The article focuses on women’s career progression to highlight discrimination against women in large international accounting firms. The study results show that women are generally allowed to be promoted to a lower management levels if they are married and have children. On the other hand, men are promoted to senior managerial levels if they are married and have children suggesting obvious gender discrimination in these larger firms. Thus managerial advancement of fathers is seen as more positive and occurring more quickly than the female counterparts (Windsor & Auyeung, 2006; p 828). The main reason for this discrepancy is that the women have been stereotyped to prioritize their time to child bearing and child caring. Whereas, the age –old tradition states that it is the man’s responsibility to prioritize earning money.

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This research has been conducted in Singapore and Australia. Specifically the target subjects are accountants working in major international accounting firms. Likewise, the support given by both the Singaporean and Australian government to its female population in terms of laws issued to deter discrimination in the work place is not enough to prevent the people’s traditional outlook that the women are born to take care of the house and the children and the husbands are born to be the bread earner. In short, the specific purpose of this research is to provide reliable related literature for future research on discrimination at firms on the basis as gender and the dependent children and the effects this has on the promotion processes of management personnel at international accounting firms in Singapore and Australia (Windsor & Auyeung, 2004; p 840)


Importance of the article

The importance of the article is that it gives evidence that there is indeed a mindset that the men are born to prioritize working for the family. There have been similar studies conducted by Belfield (2005), Malos (2007). This article by Windsor and Auyeung, brings out the social expectation on women that the women should give preference to taking care of children and the household chores. Likewise, this article shows factual evidence that majority of the senior management positions are reserved for the male workers of society, specifically in the accounting profession as women’s role seem to be reserved as wives and mothers first (Borna and White 2003 cited in Windsor & Auyeung, 2006; p 832).

The international accounting firms of KPMG, Ernst and Young, PWC and Deloitte’s show that women find it hard to rise up to the top level positions because these selected accounting firms prefer the men to the women to handle the delicate, complex and the hectic jobs of management and especially the male dominated networks within the accounting firms are often not inclusive of women unless women take on more subordinate ‘hand maiden’ role (Windsor and Auyeung, 2006, p.840). This article gives real empirical data that only a few women reach the top senior management level positions in these four international accounting firms under study. This article also shows that the talents of these women who are as qualified or even more qualified than their male counterparts are not being utilized. This article shows that women are perceived as prioritizing their home and family relegating the job as manager as only secondary (Windsor and Auyeung, 2006; also in Kirchmeyer, 2002). But, this might only be a perception as in reality many women tend to balance work and family duties giving equal importance to both. Thus, women who have a family and children are looked at as a hindrance to the company’s overall performance. The assumption is that women are not able to work longer hours and are thus less productive than men (Windsor and Auyeung, 2006, p.830). This article also reiterates that the male worker who is married and with children are seen as responsible and also considered the best person to fill the vacant management positions at the top of these four international accounting firms.

The locations covered where the study has been conducted and data from international accounting firms of KPMG, Ernst and Young, PWC and Deloitte’s Singapore and Australia gives the needed input for more relevant statutes and government policies to improve the current discrimination in the work place specifically against women who are married and have children. Likewise, the article zeroes in on one of the side effects of hiring men simply because there is a bias that women can never do as well as the men can in terms of job benchmarks in the international accounting firms in Australia and Singapore. The biased male dominated management world is well expressed through the phrase, ‘think manager, think male’ (Schein, 2001 cited in Windsor and Auyeung, 2006, p.830)

Analytical summary of main findings /conclusions of the article

Some of the results and findings of the article could be summarized to draw out the focus and significance of the study in gender discrimination at the workplace. Firstly, married men with family are viewed as stable and reliable and are more favorably viewed to attain promotion to senior management levels. On the other hand, married women with families are depicted as liabilities to the company. Further, it is assumed that male managers can generate more clients than women managers. Thirdly, women who file for temporary leave to concentrate on giving birth on their child seldom go back to their former full time jobs as managers. Women are also stereotyped as child bearers and unpaid care giving and not always considered suitable to take up the challenging role of managers. Also, the article suggests that the dependent variable of the study, the management position in a company, is largely influenced by gender, marital status, presence of dependent children and general perception on women’s ability as managers as against male suitability for the job.

Firstly, the men who are married with children are considered stable and reliable as married men have responsibilities to feed their family. Thus hard work and longer hours are expected of him and it is assumed that men can work up to 50-70 hours per week, although this may in turn threaten health and safety of employees (Peetz et al, 2003 cited in Windsor and Auyeung, 2006). On the other hand, women who are married with children are depicted as liabilities to the company; they are not seen as bread earners but as care givers at home. It is perceived that apart from the maternity leave, women will take more leave due to their responsibilities at home and will also be able to give in lesser hours at the office. The authors state that the women workers have to file a leave of absence whenever they are pregnant to bear a child. The women need more time away from their current job to rest after childbirth in order to recover her strength. These factors are perceived by many companies as disadvantages of hiring female managers.

Further, another of the authors’ findings is that male managers can generate more clients than women managers. Many of the managers of most companies are males. Thus, the male managers of the accounting firms can easily generate more clients because they can meet and convince these male managers to enter into an accounting or auditing or management contract with them. The female managers of the accounting firms may have to endure oppressive client behavior and sexual harassment to convince a client (Windsor and Auyeung, 2006, p 830).

The article suggests that women are stereotyped as child bearers and unpaid care giving and not as managers. This is one of the many reasons why women are not considered good as managers. Although institutional policies and social support provide some economic assistance to women with dependent children, it dopes not alleviate inequality in career progression as studied here (Windsor and Auyeung, 2006, p 840).

The authors suggest that the management position as dependent variable of the study is influenced by independent variables of gender and presence or absence of dependent children, the location, and number of years in the current profession as accountants. The results indicate that gender and presence of dependent children affect promotion and management positions of men and women differently within the accounting firms studied (also in Kirchmeyer, 2002).

Strengths /usefulness of the Article

The article has a defining role in focusing on the gender discrimination still existent in modern firms and in large international accounting firms and the disadvantageous position of women as managers in these firms. This highlights the bias, prejudice or preconception already existing in international firms and how women are discriminated against and explains the lack of women in senior management positions across the corporate word and especially in accounting firms. The general perception of women as caregivers and men as bread winners also tend to affect men’s promotional levels and women’s career tend to take a backseat when compared with her responsibilities at home.


Summary of Important Points

In summary, the men who are married and with family are identified as stable and reliable. On the other hand, women who are married and have children are depicted as liabilities to the company. Male managers are perceived as more competent as they can put in longer working hours and can generate more clients than women managers. Women are disadvantaged due to their role as caregivers and parent and are stereotyped as child bearers and home makers rather than managers. The article conclusively shows management position in several large international companies is dependent on the gender and dependent children issues and that women and men are judged differently with regard to their marital status and presence of a family.


  • Belfield, Clive R. (2005) Workforce gender effects on firm performance and workers’ pay: evidence for the UK Applied Economics, Volume 37, Number 8, pp. 885-891(7)
  • Kirchmeyer C. (2002) Gender Differences in Managerial Careers: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Journal of Business Ethics, Volume 37, Number 1, pp. 5-24(20)
  • Malos, Stan (2007) Appearance-based Sex Discrimination and Stereotyping in the Workplace: Whose Conduct Should We Regulate? Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, Volume 19, Number 2,pp. 95-111(17)
  • Windsor, C., Auyeung, P, (2006), The Effect of Gender and Dependent Children on Professional Accountant’s Career Progression, Critical Perspectives on Accounting 17, 828-844
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