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Journal cover: Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Online from: 2004

Subject Area: Accounting and Finance

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(Re)presentation of women in Indian accountancy bodies' web sites

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DOI (Permanent URL): 10.1108/11766091011072783

Article citation: Orthodoxia Kyriacou, Jatin Pancholi, Angathevar Baskaran, (2010) "(Re)presentation of women in Indian accountancy bodies' web sites", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 7 Iss: 3, pp.329 - 352




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The Authors

Orthodoxia Kyriacou, Middlesex University, London, UK

Jatin Pancholi, Middlesex University, London, UK

Angathevar Baskaran, Middlesex University, London, UK


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the representation of women in two Indian accounting professional bodies' web sites: The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) and The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India (ICWAI).

Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses content analysis to explore the content of the web sites of the ICAI and ICWAI. The paper provides a multi-disciplinary framework to explore the Indian accountancy bodies' presentation of self through their web sites.

Findings – The paper finds that the two Indian bodies appear to be visibly masculine; the representation of women in these two web sites is either weak or non-existent. Further, the paper finds that the language used in these sites largely excludes women by referring predominately to the masculine as representing the norm.

Research limitations/implications – The content analysis has its own inherent limitations, together with the use of the information contained in the web sites.

Practical implications – The paper has important practical implications for policy initiatives. It argues for greater consistency in the use of inclusive language and for careful consideration of the ways that women are portrayed in the web sites.

Originality/value – The value of this paper rests on the exploration of the two Indian accountancy bodies' web sites and in encouraging debate on women's professional accountancy issues, in a country which is increasingly driven by globalised market forces.

Article Type:

Case study


Accounting; Gender; Accountancy; Worldwide web; India.


Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management









Copyright ©

Emerald Group Publishing Limited



1 Introduction

This paper focuses on the accounting profession in India, set against the backdrop of the information technology sector which has given rise to new digital technologies such as the internet (Hermida and Thurman, 2008). The expansion of the internet has led to companies increasing the development, creation and distribution of information across the globe (Runyan et al., 2008).

Little research has been conducted on professional accountancy in India and its operations (Kyriacou et al., 2008). However, a number of studies have been published which explore professional accounting identity (Anderson-Gough et al., 1998a, b; Grey, 1998); accounting institutional structures (Hanlon, 1994; Johnston and Kyriacou, 2001); aspects of gender (Broadbent, 1998; Kirkham and Loft, 1993); ethnicity and its intersection with race, class and culture (Hammond and Streeter, 1994; Kyriacou, 2000).

Kyriacou et al. (2008) explored the position of women accountants in Indian professional accountancy. The present study develops that work by exploring the presence and position of women in the Indian accountancy profession as depicted in the web sites of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI) and The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India (ICWAI). In doing so, it explores the presentation of “self” (Goffman, 1959). The content of the web sites was analysed using content analysis (Robson, 1993).

Web sites were chosen rather than other forms of media because the reach of conventional hardcopy media such as magazines, journals and publicity brochures may be restricted to those who are part of the profession and also may have a rather limited audience and readership. In contrast, web sites have the capacity to reach communities far beyond the traditional readership of printed communications. These communities can include academics and educators, researchers, governments and anyone across the world with access to the internet. The web sites of the ICAI and ICWAI are used to disseminate professional information, whether it is in the form of technical updates, best practice or recent developments. In doing so, they facilitate the professional socialisation and education of their members.

The next section explores some salient literature which is interdisciplinary in nature in order to identify relevant themes and concepts for exploration in the analysis. This is followed by a brief discussion of the role and place of women in Indian society, before a brief historical overview of the ICAI and ICWAI is presented. This is followed by discussion of the research methods adopted and consideration of the resultant methodological issues. The analysis is then presented and discussed. Policy implications are then explored with suggestions for future policy initiatives.

2 Connecting contemporary literature

Debates concerning whether accountancy is a profession have received much attention in recent decades (Abbott, 1988; Canning and O'Dwyer, 2001; Lee, 1995; Mitchell and Sikka, 2004; Robson and Cooper, 1990). However, much of this literature is concerned with the UK accountancy. Research has also explored notions of professionalism and its connection to institutional structures of the UK accountancy (Kirkham and Loft, 1993). Kirkham and Loft (1993) identified the notion of the professional construction of the accountant as of a male – the English (white) gentleman. His values were predicated on professionalism, confidentiality, trust and confidence. Women did not appear to possess such values as they represented the “other” in accountancy and as such were excluded (Lehman, 1992). This “other” comprised women (Cooper, 1992) and those from ethnic minorities (Knapp and Kwon, 1991; Kyriacou, 2000). Studies have also emerged which have explored issues concerning accounting and culture from various non-Anglo-Saxon communities (Annisette, 2000, 2003; Gallhofer and Chew, 2000; Kim, 2004; McNicholas et al., 2004). These studies reflect the need to incorporate aspects relating to the individual and their experience(s) which have been neglected or marginalised by accounting in its progress. It is clear and encouraging to see that since the publication of Kirkham and Loft (1993), other researchers have explored and acknowledged the representation and inclusion of women (to some extent) in the occupation of accounting. Furthermore, the pre-occupation of some of these studies is with flexible work arrangements and career progression for women (Fearfull and Kamenou, 2006; Lightbody, 2008). In particular, pregnancy and issues concerning motherhood in the accounting organisational setting have been examined (Haynes, 2004; 2008a, b).

These studies have clearly illustrated the notion that the individual is not a homogenous being and as such more attention needs to be paid to the uniqueness of experience (Kyriacou, 2000). A number of pioneering studies have called for this “lived experience” to be heard through the use of more interpretative and reflexive methodologies in accounting (Covaleski and Dirsmith, 1990; Hammond and Sikka, 1996; Mumford, 1991; Tomkins and Groves, 1983). The use of these methodologies would highlight the dialectic relationship between the individual and the accountancy structures to illuminate how these are experienced (Modell, 2009; Reed, 1997). Potentially, issues concerning identity, subjectivity and organisational identity could be explored which would provide new insights into accountancy. Until recently, little was known about this lived (accounting) experience and how it interacted with the symbolic and institutional structures of accountancy. Furthermore, little was known about the operations of accounting firms themselves as their practices were often kept secret (Mitchell et al., 1998). A few emergent studies notably those of Anderson-Gough et al. (1998a, b), Grey (1994, 1998), Hanlon (1994, 1996, 1999) and Johnston and Kyriacou (2001) were able to expose aspects concerning both the symbolic and institutional structures of accountancy. De-coupling all the symbolic and institutional aspects as highlighted in these studies is beyond the scope of this paper. However, for the purpose of our current study, we have chosen to explore a few of the most notable themes as illuminated through this salient literature that we would like to explore in our analysis.

First, the studies suggest that surveillance is ever present in accounting. It strongly features in accounting worksites and in the work itself (Grey, 1994). It could also be argued that the very nature of our study is one of surveillance as we are undertaking an examination of the presentation of self of the profession, with respect to notions of gender (Goffman, 1959). Therefore, our role as researchers places us in a position of power which controls the “gaze” upon the Indian profession. By doing so, the web sites become subject to our “gaze” (Gammon and Marshment, 1988) and interpretations thus become socially constructed (Berger and Luckman, 1966). We argue that we are interested in examining women and their representation in the web sites, and whether our findings support or contradict any existing findings in the field, such as the studies of Benschop and Meihuizen (2002) and Shen and Samkin (2008). These two studies have conducted similar research with respect to exploring representations through other media, notably annual reports. Benschop and Meihuizen (2002) found that stereotypical images were highly visible in annual reports and that these reinforced traditional gendered division of labour. Furthermore, Shen and Samkin (2008, p. 31) confirmed the findings of Benschop and Meihuizen (2002) in that gender biases in annual reports “continue to reinforce the hierarchical gender order”. We argue that the rise of the internet and new media has meant that companies and indeed the professional accounting world needs to be aware of its presentation of self through its web site presence as it is there for all the outside world to see (Sikka, 2008).

We argue that surveillance has implications for the accountant through aspects of self-surveillance (Kyriacou, 2000, p. 153). In Haynes (2008b), the relationship between the body and the self is explored. In particular, it can be clearly seen in Haynes (2008b, p. 329) that the redefinition and transformation of the self is clearly seen through pregnancy and motherhood “in the process of bodily renegotiation to conform to professional accounting norms […]”.

For our current study, although we cannot explore organisational surveillance with respect to the layout of the office (Kyriacou, 2000), or indeed the worksites of Indian accountancy, we can however highlight the gender of the members and those who hold office with respect to the information contained on the web sites.

Connected to the notion of surveillance is the theme of professional identity, appearance and clothes (Grey, 1998). We would like to explore the notion of professional identity through exploring whether the photographs contained on these sites depict any women at all, and how these women are dressed, whether it be in ethnic dress or Western clothes. Jeacle (2008) explored the social representation of the accountant as depicted through recruitment publications of the “big four” accountancy firms and accountancy bodies. Her findings indicated that a campaign of impression management was at play to cast aside any negative stereotypes of the professional accountant (Jeacle, 2008, p. 1296).

The studies suggest that the historical construction of the professional accountant, i.e “white male”, is still prevalent and very much alive today (in Anglo-Saxon communities). Although there is some visibility of people from ethnic minorities in the profession, they undoubtedly represent a minority (Fearfull and Kamenou, 2006; Kyriacou, 2000). Further, women appear to be less visible and may struggle to achieve (promotion and higher levels) as they feel marginalised from fully participating as symbolic and real barriers act to exclude and marginalise them. Hanlon (1994, 1996) suggests that an individual's visibility through conforming and being seen as a team player in an organisation will be used as a criterion in selection and promotion. However, this may be more difficult for women to achieve as this type of visibility is in part obtained through socialising and being seen to be part of a team (Kyriacou, 2000, p. 170). Typical activities take the form of sport such as football, playing golf or cricket (Hanlon, 1994; Jeacle, 2008). We would like to explore instances of events being offered to members, in particularly to women. In addition, any workshops offered directly for women and indeed any references made with respect to encouraging and mentoring women will be explored.

Family life and work balance issues will be explored to see if any of these have a presence with respect to encouraging women back into the workforce after raising a family (Haynes, 2004, 2008a, b; Lightbody, 2008). Notions of crèches and nurseries and child care facilities will be explored to see if any of these initiatives are advocated by the Indian accountancy bodies.

Cooper (1992, p. 23) asserts that accounting has a masculine phallocentric nature, which is reflected through the language of accounting, working so as to exclude women. We intend to explore the use of language through the web sites to see whether Cooper's (1992) argument is valid within our current study.

It could be argued that other themes are also worthy of study however, a choice has to be made. As mentioned earlier, many studies focus on the UK accountancy profession, which we argue are insightful for our current work as they highlight themes which we would like to explore in our analysis. Essentially, our study explores the presentation of self of the Indian accountancy profession as depicted through two of the major bodies web sites: ICAI and ICWAI. We feel that the themes that we have highlighted through the UK literature would be of relevance to the study of the Indian profession as the profession has been formed by a residue of past histories including imperialism and colonialism (Annisette, 2000, 2003; Said, 1978). Before we present a discussion concerning the methods employed in our research, we illustrate some background concerning Indian society, specifically with a focus on the position of women, before exploring the Indian accountancy professional bodies.

3 Position of women in India: some background

Historically, Hinduism was the predominant religion in India and during the ancient Hindu Vedic times, the status and position of women in society was very high (Andal, 2002). However, from the C12th India saw the invasion of (Muslim) armies which gradually led to the decline of their status and position in society. Women faced many inequalities and forms of social oppression in various aspects of life such as education, health, work, marriage and inheritance. During the British colonial period, this situation did not improve as women's education was not considered a priority. However, with the emergence of the freedom movement in the nineteenth century, “a sense of equality with men – an equality which was unheard of in the tradition-bound Indian society” had been generated (Andal, 2002, p. 40). Mahatma Gandhi who led the freedom movement and worked hard for women's emancipation and education, stated; “if you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a women you educate an entire family” (Andal, 2002, p. 39). Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, considered “[…] the greatest revolution in the country is one that affects the status and living conditions of women” (Andal, 2002, pp. 213-14).

The Constitution of India ensures equal rights to men and women including the right to own property, to divorce, be educated, be in employment and be equal before the law. However, in reality it would appear that women's empowerment and equality is poorly enforced (Saini, 1999). It would appear that the status of women in India is indeed paradoxical. On one hand, women are treated as Goddesses and a source of power, signifying emotion and mercy, whilst on the other hand Indian women are treated as subordinates, home-makers and are burdened with all the domestic responsibilities. From childhood, girls are taught by parents and relatives to be submissive and happy in whatever they get from life. The social system in India still:

[…] reinforces the negative attitude towards females in multiple ways. It stresses that she be tolerant, patient, nurturing, and fostering calm, quiet, resilient force which is not visible but always present (Andal, 2002, p. 73).

Over the years, there has been significant improvement in the empowerment of women in India, due to increased access to education for the female population and also due to many socio-economic and technological changes. For example, there have been significant increases for women in a number of areas, including political representation, number of CEOs of corporate organisations, business and management, and in the science and technology sector. However, women in modern India still face many challenges and problems of inequality in many aspects of life, such as politics, education and work. For example, representation of women in parliament has grown from 4.4 per cent to over 8 per cent since the first general election in 1952 (James and Devasahayam, 2003). Although the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act led to the designation of female constituencies for local government structures which increased women's representation in these bodies, “the quality of gender polity has remained low – with most women being proxy candidates for male family members” (Khosla, 2009, p. 19).

As part of the Human Development Index (HDI), India has been reporting on gender equality called the Gender Equality Index (GEI). This measures the attainments in human development indicators for females as a proportion of that of males.

Table I shows that both HDI and GDI has risen between 1996 and 2006 in India. The GDI scores are lower than the HDI scores both in 1996 and 2006 due to the existence of gender-based disparities in all three dimensions – health, education and income. However, GDI score increased significantly between 1996 and 2006, that is, from 0.568 to 0.633, which suggests that there has been some progress in reducing gender disparities or inequalities between men and women in the above three dimensions. The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) focuses on gender inequality in three key areas:

  1. “Political participation and decision making power (PI)”.
  2. “Economic participation and decision making power (EI)” which are measured by women's and men's percentage in employment as legislators, senior officials and managers and women's and men's percentage shares of professional and technical positions.
  3. “Power over economic resources (PoERI)”, as measured by women's and men's estimated earned income (PPP US$).

The GEM scores for India show that they are significantly lower and reflect the existence of sharp disparities in gender empowerment, particularly in the areas of EI and PoERI. In terms of Gender Gap Index, India ranked 98 in 2007 and dropped further to 113 in 2008 (Kaul, 2009, p. 8). India has been trying to reduce this gender disparity as part of its effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals through policy measures such as gender mainstreaming (which the goal is to achieve gender equality) under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, and gender budgeting which ensures “that government spending targets women and does not have negative impact on them” (Khosla, 2009, p. 29). Recently, in a workshop jointly organised by the UNDP and the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) experts from the academy, corporate sector, government and NGOs discussed the gender equity, diversity and inclusivity and identified a number of areas to improve the gender gap. These included: infrastructural support to meet the needs of women in the workplace, work-life balance, gender friendly policies such as parent sabbatical leave, companies organising or sponsoring day care centres, corporate responsibility and gender, lack of access to social networking for women and gender responsive budgeting (Kaul, 2009).

It would appear that issues relating to women's equality and representation in India are gathering more attention. The recent efforts to reduce gender disparity must be seen as a positive step. Attention now turns to the Indian accountancy bodies in order to explore the representation and visibility of women in professional accountancy. We begin by outlining a few important aspects relating to the historical development of the ICAI and ICWAI.

4 Some background concerning the accounting bodies in India: ICAI and ICWAI

After independence in 1947, two pieces of legislation were passed forming two accounting institutions: The ICAI and the ICWAI.

ICAI was set up under the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949. The main purpose of the ICAI is to regulate the profession of chartered accountants in India. ICAI is based in New Delhi and it has 117 branches across India and 19 chapters (mini branches) outside India. The total number of members of the ICAI is 140,000, out of which 55 per cent are in practice and the remainder in employment. By 2007, its membership was 141,516 and student strength was nearly 400,000. It conducts examinations in 174 centres which are spread across 105 Indian cities and two cities abroad (Dubai and Abu Dhabi). ICAI is organised into Central Council consisting of around 40 members (out of which eight are nominated by the central government) and standing and non-standing committees. The standing committees include: Executive Committee, Disciplinary Committee, Finance Committee and Examination Committee. There are 36 non-standing committees including Accounting Standard Board, Editorial Board, International Affairs Committee, Committee on Corporate Governance and so forth. ICAI is headed by an elected president whose term is one year. There is no single woman president in the history of ICAI among 59 presidents since 1949. In the 20th council of ICAI, there is no single woman member among the eight members who are nominated by the central government. There are only two women among the 32 elected members in the 20th council (ICAI, 2008). According to the ICAI (2009), the total members are 149,678. Out of this, 22,194 are women, which represents 14.83 per cent. Of the total number of student membership (469,591), 148,832 are women, which represents 31.69 per cent.

The ICWAI, on the other hand, was established in 1944 (during the Second World War) when the country was in a dire need of controlling inflation through appropriate costing, pricing and accounting practices. In 1959, the ICWAI obtained statutory recognition with the enactment of The Cost and Works Accountants Act. ICWAI is based in Kolkata (Calcutta) and it has its chapters (branches) in more than 150 cities of India and five cities outside India. The governing structure of ICWAI consists of the executive committee and 20 other committees. Our analysis of the composition of these committees reveals that there is no female representation in the executive committee and there are only three women in the 20 other committees. Like the ICAI, the ICWAI has never had a woman president or chief executive in its history of 48 presidents since 1944. The April 2007 list of members published by ICWAI provided names, addresses, educational qualifications and phone numbers of all its members. However, it failed to provide the gender divide, that is, of the total members how many are men and how many are women (ICWAI, 2008). While we were revising the paper, we noticed that the list of Membership – April 2009 was made available in the ICWAI web site. The new list also failed to provide the gender divide. As we were unable to obtain figures on total male and total female members from ICWAI web site, a telephone interview was conducted on the 18 January 2010, with the current President of the ICWAI who provided the following information: the total membership is over 47,000. Of this, only 18,000 are practicing members. The membership represents approximately 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women.

Although the ICAI has a larger membership than ICWAI, both bodies have more or less comparable numbers of women represented in their bodies (14.83 per cent compared with 20 per cent approximately). In the next section, we explain how we conducted the analysis of the ICAI and ICWAI web sites in order to explore this issue of women's representation in the web sites of these two accountancy bodies.

5 Methods

To analyse the official web sites of the ICAI and the ICWAI, this study used content analysis to explore the presence and depiction of women in the profession. The web sites were accessed and explored on 31 March 2009 (ICAI, 2009; ICWAI, 2009). This day was selected as it represented the end of the (Indian) financial year (1 April 2008-31 March 2009).

5.1 Source documents

The entire content of the two accountancy web sites: ICAI, and ICWAI, were downloaded using Adobe Acrobat 7 and printed into hard copy volumes for ease of analysis. The hyperlinks from the home (index) pages were selected (clicked) and those linked pages were also included as part of our study. Any images contained on the web sites were downloaded and analysed. The hardcopy output of the ICWAI web site in comparison with the ICAI web site was far smaller. However, it has not been possible to calculate the web site in terms of megabites or gigabites as the web sites are updated frequently. By extending Abeysekera's (2008, p. 19) argument and applying this to web sites, we argue that web sites can be used as a promotional tool rather than merely communicating standards to the outside world. Furthermore, web sites can provide opportunities for those concerned to display leadership, a reflection of the values of the organisation and future vision (Abeysekera, 2008; Runyan et al., 2008).

5.2 Content analysis

Content analysis is a well-established technique (Robson, 1993, pp. 269-93). According to Hair et al. (2007, p. 195), it is concerned with obtaining “data by observing and analysing the content or message of written text”. As a research method, it has been used extensively to analyse the content of annual reports and disclosures (Abeysekera, 2008; Aerts and Cormier, 2009). Content analysis has also given rise to debate concerning methodological issues and those surrounding reliability and in particular consistency (Unerman, 2000; Gray et al., 1995; Guthrie et al., 2004; Milne and Adler, 1999; Smith and Taffler, 2000). The study by Unerman (2000) on corporate social reporting disclosures recognized the increasing use of company web sites as an important part of a company's corporate social responsibility strategy. Unerman (2000) further suggested that content analysis must also explore pictures and graphics in the hope of presenting a complete representation as possible. In our analysis that follows, we have attempted to incorporate and explore both the photographical and pictorial content of the Indian web sites. The content on the web sites of ICAI and ICWAI was analysed according to the categories constructed in Table II.

In particular, we were interested in the presence and position of women in the Indian profession. The frequency represents the number of times a “gender” item was recorded on the web sites. We used two methods to maximise objectivity and reliability in both recording and analysing the data. First, the gender items were derived from our reading of salient literature as outlined above (Benschop and Meihuizen, 2002; Shen and Samkin, 2008). This literature was read independently by all three authors with the aim of identifying themes and categories for exploration in the content analysis. We made a conscious decision to exclude the categories of “caste”, “class” and “religion”. The list compiled in Table II represents the confirmed agreed list of themes and or categories for exploration. We presented this list to a gender studies academic for an independent opinion on the selected categories. Our gender academic pointed out that caste, class and religion may be central to our analysis and thus in their opinion, needed to be included as categories. Our reason for this exclusion is based on a number of factors. First, members/persons may not be easily identifiable by caste or class, although in part their religious background may be identifiable from their names. Furthermore, India's constitution is based on the secular principle where that every citizen has a fundamental right to choose and follow the religion that they wish. Professional bodies such as accountancy, are implicitly expected to follow this secular principle and avoid reporting or releasing statements which may be considered non-secular. In other words, everyone has freedom to practice and follow any religion of their choice free from fear and discrimination.

The study by Abeysekera (2008) served as a guide in our approach to coding and recording the data. The printed-out pages of the two web sites were explored independently by two of the authors to “confirm the consistency of the coding frequency” (Abeysekera, 2008, p. 19). Two of the authors were asked to independently code the data manually and each person revisited the coding a week later to ensure intra-coder reliability (Abeysekera, 2008; Unerman, 2000). The codings were cross-checked by two of the authors and agreed upon and any updates were made to the framework. This then lead to 15 descriptive items for the coding framework.

The 15 descriptive items in the coding framework were clustered into five gender representation classes. The authors created these classes from their reading of the salient (multi-disciplinary) literature which explores institutional structures, accountancy and gender issues in order to enhance analytical rigour to the data interpretation. Gender representation items were clustered based on how well they represented each gender representation class. These gender representation classes were:

  • Institutional structures and women's representation: comprised of history of the profession (including history of women in the profession), statistics on membership, structure of the organisation (representation of women), and symbols and logos.
  • Professional identity and presentation of women: comprised of images and photographs of women, dress code/western or native, language of exclusion (he, his, him, himself) and language of inclusion (s/he, his/her, him/her, himself/herself).
  • Women's well-being: comprised of maternity issues, family friendly policies and domestic responsibilities.
  • Women's networks: comprised of women's professional networks/forum/community and social networking/official parties/timing of events.
  • Women-centric training and development: comprised employee training (knowledge transfer) and employee welfare (benefits).

Although the gender representation items were clustered, the discussion which follows draws on the 15 gender representation items.

6 Results

We summarise the frequency count of gender items and classes as derived from the content analysis for the ICWAI and the ICAI web sites in Table III.

The results for both the ICAI and ICWAI web sites revealed some interesting observations. First, what is surprising given that both web sites are considerably different in size and volume, each revealed the following gender representation classes (in descending order of frequency): professional identity and institutional structures. Women's well-being, women's networks and women's training and development classes were not disclosed on either web site and thus the frequency for these classes is zero.

6.1 Professional identity

The ICAI revealed most about their identity through language which prioritised the masculine, 383 counts were observed. However, for ease of reference we have summarised this information in Table IV which is located in Appendix. This masculine language appeared to be most prevalent in the technical material. A few examples are cited below.

Under General Principles of a Compilation Engagement SRS 4410 (VI 14):

In all circumstances when an accountant's name is associated with final information compiled by him, the accountant should issue a report.

And also, under the ICAI's Training Guide and Introduction:

On becoming the member of the Institute, he becomes entitled to use the professional description of “Chartered Accountant” and commence his practice as a chartered accountant after complying with the rules in this regard.

However, language which included and acknowledged the feminine appeared much less as 48 counts were observed. Interestingly, the inclusive language mostly appeared in student-related material.

Our exploration of the ICWAI's web site revealed a similar situation. Again, for ease of reference we have summarised this information in Table V which is located in Appendix. The ICWAI's web site suggested that through the use of masculine language, it has a predominately masculine professional identity. The web site contained language which mainly referred to the masculine gender as representing the profession, through the use of he, his, him, himself. Furthermore, there were instances where this use of the masculine appears to be reinforced further. For example, on their home page the word “shoulder” is used in a somewhat masculine way to denote strength and responsibility:

In today's world, the profession of conventional accounting and auditing has taken a back seat and accountants increasingly contribute towards the management of scarce resources like funds, land and apply strategic decisions. This has opened up further scope and tremendous opportunities Cost and Works accountants to shoulder responsibility as Cost and Management Accountants in accordance with new dimensions and vision here in India and abroad (our emphasis).

Again, the Code of Ethics revealed a number of interesting observations. Under Chapter 5, Clause (8) references are made to the “client”. It would appear that this notion of client is very much a masculine one:

[…] every client has an inherent right to choose his accountant; also that he may, subject to compliance with the statutory requirements in the case of limited companies, make a change whenever he chooses, whether or not the reasons which had impelled him to do so are good and valid.

Furthermore, under Chapter 6 of the Code of Ethics, the designation used is “Chairman” as opposed to “Chairperson”, thus reinforcing the masculine institutional structures further.

Language which included and acknowledged the feminine presence of the profession appeared less frequently on the web site of the ICWAI. It contained a number of photographic images of men and women. Women featured in four photographs out of a total of 11. One image features a woman dancing in traditional dress, another in traditional dress standing at a conference podium. The third woman appears to be a professional in traditional dress, whilst the fourth appears to be a professional model in western dress. It would appear that women accountants are being portrayed as traditional, despite their qualifications. The men on the other hand, mostly appear in western dress (suit). It could be argued that they are portrayed as progressive. On the other hand, the ICAI web site featured 105 photographs of men. About 96 of them show men in Western suits. There appear to be 14 images of women. Six are in western dress (in what appears to be a jacket, shirt and trousers/skirt) and eight are in traditional dress (saree). One of the images features a woman in Western dress (suit) on the front cover of the flagship Journal named The Chartered Accountant (April 2009, Vol. 57, No. 10). She appears to be looking down in a rather submissive way, while all the other women who are present in the photograph appear to be part of a mass population and are featured in the background in traditional dress. Another image features a woman on the Ambala Branch of Northern India Regional Council of ICAI section showing her speaking from a podium. Although these images require further analysis, it was difficult to explore them further due to the fact that in India the climate is extremely hot and most business people will be working in air-conditioned environments, thus the chosen attire may be more of comfort than that of professional business dress. Thus, it is difficult to draw out any meaningful conclusions here.

6.2 Institutional structures

Both web sites featured information concerning the profession. The web site for the ICWAI revealed that there is no woman on the council and committees as all members disclosed are men. Out of a total of nine department heads of institute, two are women; one is Joint Director of Information Technology Department, whilst the other is Deputy Director of Research and Journal Department. Furthermore, in the history of the ICWAI no woman has ever held the position of President.

Similarly, the ICAI provided indications that there are only two women out of 35 elected members on the 20th Council (2007-2010). Furthermore, it is clear from the history of the ICAI since 1949-2009 there was no female in the position of President. Furthermore, the ICAI web site shows that out of 45 standing and non-standing committees for 2009-2010 only one committee is headed by a woman (the “Vision Committee”). In addition, out of 45 committees women's representation is found on 25 of these committees. However, this representation is marked by the appearance of only two women who are present on all 25 committees. Another observation is that the ICAI appears to have a committee which concerns high level decision making called the “High Powered Committee”. Again, there is no woman in this important committee.

With regard to committees and women's representation, it is interesting to note that there does not appear to be any committee on either the ICAI or ICWAI web site which is concerned with issues relating to women's empowerment or equality issues. Thus, both bodies appeared to remain silent on women's well-being, women's networks and women-centric training and development issues. Interestingly, in our analysis of the ICAI web site, we have noted that in its syllabus there is one paper/module called “Law, Ethics and Communication”. Under Part II “Business Ethics” there is a topic entitled “Ethics in Workplace”, which lists “discrimination, harassment and gender equality”. Therefore, it would appear that these important areas are given some attention in the students' syllabus. However, it would be interesting to explore how these relate to practice and at what level the ICAI is pursuing these. However, we are unable to explore the extent of this from the information provided. On the other hand, there is no such topic for study on the ICWAI's syllabus.

6.3 Further observations: professional logos and symbols

A number of reoccurring symbols or logos appear on the web sites. To fully appreciate the meaning and significance of these symbols would entail exploring the use of these symbols with the respective bodies and to also undertake some form of semiotic analysis (Barthes, 1972). However, this is beyond the scope of our current paper and what follows is our agreed upon interpretation.

The ICWAI logo is a partially burning torch. A number of interpretations can be made here. On the one hand, it could signify hope and aspirations, whilst on the other hand (from our knowledge of Indian customs) it could be some kind of religious symbol which is providing some kind of offering to the Gods in return for holy blessing. The only other example that the ICWAI web site featured is a red hibiscus flower in the banner for the “World Congress of Accountants 2010”, which is to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The hibiscus flower is usually associated with the feminine, however in this instance, it appears to have a different meaning as it is the national flower of Malaysia (Travel Guide Malaysia, 2009).

Interestingly, the ICAI logo is that of a golden eagle with out-spread wings above a banner. The eagle is usually suggestive of the masculine in its strength, power and freedom (Easthope, 1992). Therefore, it could be interpreted that the underlying message here has connotations with the masculine. On a number of web site pages, this logo is seated above a diamond logo. On closer examination, the diamond is used with the eagle symbol to mark their “60th year of excellence”. The use of this diamond symbol we argue is to signify their resilience and strength as the diamond represents the hardest mineral known. Furthermore, the diamond's clarity can also be used to denote the bodies' clarity in their rules and standards. The diamond is also usually associated with beauty and it could be interpreted that it also signifies the feminine as it usually associated with women.

Another interesting observation is a reference which is contained on the ICAI web site about the cover page of the January 2009 CA Journal Issue. The Journal Issue contains a sunflower which is interpreted by Dr C.A. N.A. Charantimath in his posting on the ICAI web site page:

The cover page of the journal with sunflower and CA Institute logo inbuilt in 2009 depicts a joyous wish that each member and students life ahead in 2009 is like Sunflower; which is always bright and yellow colour symbolising a bond of friendship forever. I hope the CA Institute would reach a top height on the planet like ‘Mount Everest’ with sincere efforts of all those at the helm of affairs. I admire CA Journal, which has come a long way to its present state as a highly professional journal.

The interpretation offered here suggests that the Institute will be the students' lifelong friend offering support and guidance and that every students' path for the coming year will be bright and full of hope. Furthermore, it could also be suggested that this image signifies the feminine and is prioritizing a somewhat soft and nurturing image towards its student membership. In the next section, we offer some limitations of our analysis before entering into a discussion concerning our findings and their implications for policy making.

7 Limitations, discussions and implications

As noted earlier in this paper, content analysis was used to explore the web sites of the ICWAI and ICAI. Prior studies have extensively established the method as a tool in the analysis of the content of annual reports and disclosures (Abeysekera, 2008; Aerts and Cormier, 2009; Gray et al., 1995; Guthrie et al., 2004; Milne and Adler, 1999; Smith and Taffler, 2000). We argued that web sites could function as both promotional and communicating tools and could be subject to analysis in the same way as annual reports. Thus, content analysis was considered to be a suitable method for the exploration of women's representation on the ICWAI and ICAI web sites. In other words, we used a form of surveillance to explore the presentation of self for the Indian profession, with particular emphasis to women's representation. Although we are aware of the issues raised by Unerman (2000) concerning the reliability and validity of this method, we believe that we have taken care to maximise these in both the recording and analysis of the data. Further, Unerman's (2000) suggestion to explore pictures was incorporated into our study in order to provide a richer exploration. Furthermore, we acknowledge that observer bias may have influenced the selection of some categories and themes for analysis as these have been arrived at through our reading and interpretation of the salient studies highlighted in the literature review. This has obviously meant that other themes have been excluded from the analysis. For example, we excluded the exploration of caste, class and religion from this current study. Further work could be conducted to incorporate these dimensions.

Our analysis of the ICWAI and ICAI Indian accountancy bodies revealed that the representation of professional women is either weak or non-existent. Furthermore, the language which has been used in these sites largely excludes women by referring predominately to the masculine as representing the norm. In this regard, the argument by Cooper (1992) that accounting has a masculine phallocentric nature appears valid. On the other hand, the ICAI web site appeared to feature language which excludes women particularly on important technical accounting documents found in the web site pages, by referring to him, his and himself, whilst on other pages, particularly in forms related to student training, it uses the language of inclusion to embrace women as part of the profession. This observation we argue is interesting, since it could be suggested that this may be deliberate on the part of the institute as members may be more conservative and students may be more contemporary and thus inclusive. There appears to be some kind of generation difference at play between documents aimed at the membership and those aimed at the student audience. Furthermore, this difference may also be partly due to the editors who may not be frequently updating these sites and as such their personal style will also have a bearing on how the information is displayed and updated.

Finally, our findings revealed that both web sites were silent with respect to issues concerning women's well-being, women's networks and women's training programmes. At the time of writing this paper, in June 2009 the ICAI issued the first newsletter of the “Women's Steering Group” entitled “Inspire”. The Group appears to have held a number of conferences prior to 2009, although we were not able to identify these from the web sites when we conducted our initial analysis. It would appear that the ICAI is now beginning to bring visibility to women's presence in the profession through this important publication. We argue that this is an important step and one which could also be followed by the ICWAI. Currently, the ICWAI has not undertaken such a development. We further add that although our findings are modest, they have important implications for policy initiatives.

First, a positive step may come in the form of addressing the imbalance and providing consistency in the language which is used on the web sites. The ICAI appears to employ both the language of exclusion and inclusion on its web site, thus giving rise to inconsistency. The use of language which embraces both men and women will signify to the outside world that the Indian profession is inclusionary and values the contribution of women as professional equals. Second, images which portray more women may assist in attracting and recruiting women into the profession. Furthermore, how these women are portrayed will need to be carefully considered. Women who are portrayed in passive roles or support roles may not necessarily communicate the “right” message that women are an important and integral part of the professions' membership. It may also be enlightening to explore the perceived age grouping of these women (if possible) from any photographs contained on the bodies' web sites. Third, it would be interesting for the outside world to learn about the history of women's entry into the profession. Currently, both web sites remain silent with respect to this important issue. Related to this is the issue of women's membership in the profession. Currently, the membership statistics (on the two web sites) do not explicitly state the breakdown according to gender. This information would be enlightening and crucial to addressing any gender imbalance across the profession. Finally, acknowledging issues related to well-being of women members such as the complexities of juggling domestic responsibilities with professional life could be another important initiative that the profession could engage with. Some advances have been made by the ICAI in the form of their “Inspire” newsletter (June 2009) which is aimed at women. Possibly, this may develop into a future discussion board for the exchange and sharing of experiences. This may then in due course encourage women to take more active roles in the profession such as becoming mentors and role models for other women. Finally, in order to better understand women's representation on the web sites, further research involving in-depth interviews with significant others would be invaluable. Those involved in setting up the web sites of the profession could potentially reveal the reasons surrounding our current findings. Furthermore, interviews with the two women council members of the ICAI could offer unique and interesting insights into women's representation in the Indian accountancy profession. However, what is clear is that accounting academics and the profession alike need to explore further the use of web sites in the presentation of self to the outside world.

ImageTable IIndia – Human Development Index, Gender Development Index and Gender Empowerment Measure
Table IIndia – Human Development Index, Gender Development Index and Gender Empowerment Measure

ImageTable IIContent analysis categories
Table IIContent analysis categories

ImageTable IIIFrequency of gender representation disclosure on the ICWAI and ICAI web sites
Table IIIFrequency of gender representation disclosure on the ICWAI and ICAI web sites

ImageTable IVBreak down of the use of the language of “exclusion” and “inclusion” in the ICAI web site
Table IVBreak down of the use of the language of “exclusion” and “inclusion” in the ICAI web site

ImageTable VBreak down of the use of the language of “exclusion” and “inclusion” in the ICWAI web site
Table VBreak down of the use of the language of “exclusion” and “inclusion” in the ICWAI web site


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About the authors

Orthodoxia Kyriacou is a Principal Lecturer in the Business School at Middlesex University, London. She teaches accounting theory at undergraduate level and has previously taught research methods to post-graduate students. She uses qualitative research methods to study institutional structures of accountancy. She has published a number of papers on the profession of accountancy from the UK perspective with particular focus on issues of ethnicity and gender. Orthodoxia Kyriacou is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

Jatin Pancholi is a Faculty Member at the Business School at Middlesex University, London. He teaches strategic management accounting, financial management and related modules. He has published papers in refereed journals and provided corporate training to some companies. He has received awards for his research and teaching.

Angathevar Baskaran is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Middlesex University Business School, London. He holds a PhD in science and technology policy studies from the SPRU, University of Sussex, and also holds MSc in Financial Management from the Middlesex University, London, UK. His main research interests are national innovation systems, technology accumulation in developing countries, FDI, FDI in R&D with particular focus on BRICS economies. Recently, he has contributed to studies on accounting and finance control on R&D, and women accountants in India. He has published a number of articles in different international journals and also has contributed a number of chapters to edited books.