Watchdog warns accountants not to 'drop the ball' on diversity

Half of all student accountants are now women but less than a fifth of partners at the largest firms are female

The accounting watchdog has warned the profession to improve diversity in its senior ranks as women still hold less than a fifth of top jobs at the UK’s biggest firms. 

Half of all students registered with professional accounting bodies are now women but a lack of representation persists in leadership positions, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) found. 

Women make up 37pc of accountants but less than a fifth of partners at the biggest firms are female. 

The FRC’s Key Facts and Trends report found that women are now in a slim majority in manager roles at firms with fewer than 2,000 employees but remain underrepresented at director and partner level. 

Sir Jon Thompson, the council's chief executive, said: “Firms have a responsibility to ensure they are leading by example on diversity and inclusion and that they have appropriate policies in place to address any shortcomings. 

“While this year’s findings reveal that some progress has been made, firms without meaningful policies in place are dropping the ball.” 

Only 6.7pc of partners at the largest firms are from ethnic minorities, compared to about 14pc of the wider population of England and Wales at the last census in 2011. 

Of the firms surveyed, none of those with fewer than 200 employees reported having any BAME managers. 

Declarations relating to disability are low with an average of 1.7pc of managers disclosing information relating to disability, the watchdog said. 

Sir Jon said: “It is clear progress needs to be fast-tracked so that the senior management of firms more closely reflects the wider workforce it represents.” 

The figures came as mid-tier firm BDO overtook PwC as the firm with the largest number of London-listed audit clients. 

BDO, the UK’s fifth largest accountant by revenue, has 310 listed audit clients compared to PwC’s 307, according to the latest figures from Adviser Rankings. 

The firm has an established client base on London’s junior Aim market but has won more FTSE Main Market work, including tripling its number of FTSE 250 audit clients to 17. 

The Big Four accountants - Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC - still audit every FTSE 100 company.