Purpose – Women in public accounting firms are still proportionally much fewer in number in the highest levels of the hierarchy than men, whereas recruitment at junior level tends to be increasingly gender‐balanced. This paper aims to analyse the relationships between the glass ceiling and motherhood. The mechanisms explaining the difficulties encountered by auditor mothers in their hierarchical progression within the Big Four in France are identified. Design/methodology/approach – From 24 interviews with male and female auditors of various hierarchical levels, one seeks to reveal the specificity of the difficulties encountered by auditor mothers. Findings – It is argued that, throughout their careers, they are confronted with a dilemma that often leads to their being excluded and excluding themselves from the group of “those who may become partners”. It is shown that public accounting firms place both implicit and explicit obstacles in their way, tied to a desire to neutralise the effects, deemed costly, of motherhood. Moreover, the expectations of the organisation and society as a whole conflict on many points and confront female auditors with a dilemma: how to be a good mother and have a bright career? It appears that women who want to better manage this dilemma shape working practices imposed on the whole team and implement tactics to adapt their work‐life balance (specialisation and lateral move to staff departments). This leads to individual trajectories that break out of the organisational model and account for the scarcity of women in the upper management levels in audit firms. Originality/value – The paper gives voice to male auditors and shows that managing the professional life/private life dilemma is difficult for fathers as well as mothers, in the long term. Moreover, rather than thinking in terms of horizontal and vertical segregations, this paper invites one to question the concept of the glass ceiling and consider the construction of the scarcity of women in the accounting profession.
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 9, 2008
Keywords: Gender; Glass ceilings; Public sector organizations; Accounting firms; Parents; France