Corporate leadership, in particular that overseeing professional service firms (PSFs), such as accounting, auditing, and consulting firms, has been, and continues to be, overwhelmingly male-dominated. Despite a wealth of research and decades of implementing countless diversity and work-life balance (WLB) initiatives, only a small fraction of women ‘make partner’ in such PSFs. We argue that the problems around women’s career progression are reproduced and exacerbated by the very “caring” initiatives that claim to support these women. In order to investigate the implications of such WLB initiatives for women providing accounting services, this article draws on extensive empirical material gathered in the span of 12 years within two leading accounting, auditing, and consulting firms. From this material, we present the stories of four women accountants who are on the receiving end of these WLB initiatives – as well as their repressive effects. We find that WLB measures exert epistemic control, gaslighting women accountants by manipulating their sense of reality and persuading them to work less than their male counterparts. This repressive care feminizes these women, constructing them as fragile and thus in need to forgo work opportunities. However, once it is time for evaluations, their superiors forfeit their promotions. In so doing, WLB measures further gender the understanding of what ‘counts’ as accounting and consulting work and ultimately direct women’s careers sideways – into stagnation – rather than upwards, to partner levels.
Bibliographical notePublished online: 17 June 2022.
- Professional service firms
- Women accountants
- Work-life balance