• Olivia Proudley

Isn't this a man's job?




Director Olivia Proudley gives her thoughts on being a young woman in a male dominated profession and the constantly changing workplace.


Being a woman in this profession is difficult. I try not to think about it too much, get on with the job and let the service I provide do the talking. One of the biggest challenges is to get myself taken seriously by other people. The hard truth of the matter is that every time I walk into a new instruction to meet directors, employees, interested parties and financers, I am up against three barriers:


1. I am a woman

2. I am young

3. I work for a family business, and my dad is my boss (albeit becoming more and more business partners)


There is the run of the mill sexual harassment - “What’s a pretty young thing like you doing a job like this?”, “You gonna list me down love? You can sell me anyday”. There are the people who immediately discount me because of my age and assume I don’t have enough experience to know what I am talking about. This I get from older women, not just men. What they don’t know is that I have been learning about this job since my primary school days and have worked for the Company since I was 15.


Perhaps what is worst of all, is the people who just see me as “working for her dad” and that I am in my position only because it is a family business. Just last week, I had a buyer interested in a business I was selling ask me not once, but three times, if I would like to run his offer past my dad before he put it into writing. It had come up in conversation a few days before, as it often does. We have the same surname and don’t look alike, so it is often assumed that we are husband and wife. Mark doesn’t hesitate to clarify the situation and will proudly explain that I am his daughter, but when he does – I internally cringe. In that moment, I am instantly invalidated. I am the young girl working for her dad, and he is the one that calls the shots.


With long term clients, it isn’t a problem. They have seen me grow up and know how hard I have worked to get where I am and that I can produce just a good a service as Mark does. I take pride in doing the best I can and proving the people who make assumptions about me wrong. But I can’t help but question – would I be having the same experience if I was a man?


The insolvency sector is considered a specialist division of accountancy and it is therefore difficult to find information on gender equality in the profession itself. However, there is plenty of information available looking at the accountancy and financial services world as a whole. Recent research by the Financial Reporting Council found that whilst 46% of women reached the rank of manager, only 17% rise to the level of partner. In smaller firms with less than 200 employees, only 11% of partners are women. The gender pay gap for the sector is 21.5%, compared to the national average of 18.4% (as at March 2021).


The key factor in hampering progression to more senior roles is the higher likelihood of a woman having a caregiver role outside of the workplace, whether that being for their children or their elderly parent. A survey conducted by Bristol and Essex University in 2019 found that, in the three years after childbirth, only 27.8% of women were in a full-time or self-employed role. It also found that, in the five years after childbirth, women were 66% less likely to be promoted. Many firms have improved their policies in terms of shared parental leave and flexible working hours that have made it easier for women returning to work.


Workplace culture also plays a key part in progression, or lack thereof. PWC surveyed over 3000 women in 2018 and published a report, which found a particular problem with a lack of identifiable female role models within firms. If there are no senior role models juggling work and caregiver roles flexibly, then there is no one to ask questions about the experience and how to make it work.


R3 – The Association of Business Recovery Professionals, carried out a survey of their members in October 2021, to assess diversity and inclusion in the profession as part of a joint project with the Insolvency Service. Overall, the survey found that the sector is relatively gender balanced, with 48% of respondents identifying themselves as female and 52% as male. Of the respondents who have worked in the sector less than 9 years are 65% female, and for 20-29 years of experience, 53% are female.


But once you look into the figures a little more, that gender balance isn’t so clear. For assistant and junior roles, over 93% of respondents identify as female. For managers, its 70%. But when you get to partner level, it’s only 30%. Looking at licensed Insolvency Practitioners who responded to the survey, 64% were male whereas only 36% were female.


Another concerning set of statistics is the age breakdown. Of the licenced insolvency practitioners who responded, 39.9% are in the age bracket 50-59 years old and 21% in the 60-69. Of course, with age comes experience and there is a number of years involved in first qualifying as an accountant and then a licenced IP, but it does raise the question as to what the sector is going to look like in 10-20 years? There will be a lot of appointment takers retiring and not enough coming up through the ranks.


It is worth noting that only 10% of R3 members responded to the survey so the results may not provide an accurate representation of the membership. To read more and view the full results, click here: https://www.r3.org.uk/press-policy-and-research/r3-blog/more/30037/page/1/diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-profession-the-results-of-r3-s-members-survey/


The world we live and work in is constantly changing and I think awareness of gender inequality is at the highest it’s ever been. The recent success of the Women’s Euro 2022 squad finally bringing football home has made shockwaves in the sports world that may even lead to changes for women everywhere.