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.