Unit 04: Women in Leadership Positions in Professional Services

Biomarkers refer to individual differences that are determined by genetics (PSU, 2019). Out of all of the different biomarkers that pop up in discussions around leadership and ethics in the workplaces, it’s likely that none have garnered as much conversation buzz as gender. The topic of gender in the workplace is at the forefront of conversations around topics such as equal pay, promotion opportunities, discrimination, and many more. While gender equality in the workplace has made much progress in the last several decades, the fact that it’s still a hot topic in business indicates there is still much work to be done.
One of the industries that seems to struggle with gender issues the most is professional services. The nature of professional services work, face-to-face client work and pressure to charge billable hours, can conflict with an individual’s desire to have a family and work-life balance. Because of gender norms and traditional societal roles, this conflict seems to affect women much more than men.

The struggles that women face as they advance in their professional services careers can be seen in the numbers. According to Accounting Today, women make up over 50% of entry-level new hires in public accounting firms, while a mere 24% make up the partner level, which is the highest level of leadership (Stewart, 2019). Many professional services firms today are recognizing the gender disparity at the leadership level and instituting programs and initiatives to address the lack of women in top-level roles. This focus on advancing women into leadership opportunities highlights potential ethical dilemmas such as coercing or misleading women into these positions for the sake of “diversity” numbers or even discriminating against qualified male candidates in order to increase the number of females in these positions.

There are two types of roles at the highest level of leadership in a professional services firm; partner/principle and managing director. Although both roles are considered to be the same level, there are many differences between the two. A partner or a principle is an owner of the firm, this is a person who has invested in the firm and owns stock units. A managing director is an employee of the firm and does not own stock. Partners and principles receive a much higher salary, serve on more complex, high-profile client engagements, while managing directors receive health benefits, don’t take on the risk of investing in the firm, and receive a much lower but also more stable salary. When an employee is being considered for promotion to the managing director or partner/principle level, that individual has the opportunity to select which path they prefer to go. It has become an increasing concern that more women are opting to take the managing director role rather than going for the partner/principle role. This could be for various reasons, but it likely has something to do with the increased pressure and hours of the partner/principle role versus the managing director role and a desire that women have for a better balance between work life and home life. In addition, opting to go the managing director route ensures more stability and predictability. To address this gender disparity at the partner/principle level, firms are starting to implement special programs to shepherd more women into these roles. Programs focused on mentorship, work-life balance, and special leadership development, have all been put in place to influence and persuade more women to self-select into partner/principle roles.

Ethics come into play in this scenario when considering the reasoning behind why firms have such a vested interest in promoting women into these positions. Since women are self-selecting into the role that feels the most right for them, is it ethical for firms to push females into these roles under the guise of “diversity at all levels”?


PSU. (2019) PSY 833: L08 Individual Differences. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l08-introduction?module_item_id=25808476.

Stewart, L. (2019, Jan. 25). Clearing the Path to Partnership: The Challenge for Women in Professional Services. Retrieved from: https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/clearing-the-path-to-partnership- the-challenge-for-women-in-professional-services.


  1. Lori Beth Hook March 25, 2019 at 8:41 AM #

    When ignored, emotions can impede a leader’s ability to influence a group. Leaders who can empathize and get along with others are more successful than those who cannot. Emotional intelligence can increase leadership effectiveness. • By understanding antecedents and consequences of moods and emotions and how they evolve and change over time, leaders can better understand their followers. This may, in turn, help leaders motivate their followers to accomplish their goals. She may be the only member of the leadership team other than her male counterparts that had buy-in from the very first step. Along with her, It is imperative that the remainder of the employees re on the same page with the leadership team to support and educate those who re not in favor of changes. “Gaining employee commitment is necessary if organizations are to introduce various operational and strategic changes smoothly in order to survive from intense competition” (Panagiotakopoulos, A., 2014).

    PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L09 Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l09-overview?module_item_id=25808487

  2. Azadeh Ardeshir March 25, 2019 at 5:26 AM #

    Hello Ruth,
    Your subject is one of my favorite subjects in this blog. As you mentioned, this topic of gender was very popular and a majority of psychologists were working on it for several decades. According to APA ethical codes, I would mention one of the general principles which is about respecting people’s rights and dignity, “psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status, and consider these factors when working with members of such groups” (APA, 2010). In other words, one of the basic rights of people is to be respected in social situations and it shows that in a period of time, female employees were struggling to have their rights and gender differences in workplaces were an important issue in organizations. Although I would point out that they still struggle for reaching higher positions more than before and it would be consider as a remarkable change, still there is a problem in some societies.
    One of the leaders responsibilities would be decreasing influence of these individual differences in making decisions and making a safer environment for employees.

    American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 and 2016 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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