The gender gap in insolvency

An article in the latest Insolvency Law Bulletin – The gender gap among Australian liquidators,[1] by Paulina Fishman – comments on the fact that only 9% of liquidators are women. That gap is apparent from repeated surveys in an industry where diversity of gender is seen as a necessary feature in the range of circumstances in which an insolvency can arise.  The article examines and grades insolvency firms’ reported gender numbers in some detail in corporate insolvency. Personal insolvency figures are not given but the article notes that AFSA has taken the step of allocating at least 20% of transferred personal insolvency matters to female trustees.

There is much debate about why this gender gap exists but there is little by way of in-depth analysis, or solutions to the perceived problem.

One lateral approach may be to broaden the scope of those who can practise as liquidators and trustees.  While relevant figures may not be available, allowing suitable insolvency lawyers to be registered may bring in a better gender balance; reducing the required number of hours worked in insolvency from 4,000 to 1-2,000 (NZ) or 600 (UK) and broadening the permissible scope of that work would also assist.  While selection committees have the discretion to vary these requirements, the high number of hours required, comparatively, might indicate something amiss in the consultation leading to that number.  

As to core qualifications, the need to broaden the qualifications of insolvency practitioners beyond accountants, and Australian accountants, has been the subject of some comments going back to the 1988 Harmer Report. That broadening in itself might also assist in addressing gender bias. 

But even when there is a broadening of the qualifications and experience, as in the case of the new small business restructuring practitioner, numbers remain low, of either gender – in fact only one – despite nearly 2 years of operation of the law. How many have applied and been refused we do not know, but word has it that one matter is before the AAT in relation to a lawyer/accountant said to have been denied registration as a SBRP because her or his accounting knowledge and experience was not adequate.

Referring to the “potency of gender in everyday professional life”, Joyce and Walker find many limitations in diversity-orientated policies and likewise complexities in formulating transformative agendas. As to gender diversity, they note [2] it is based on “gender essentialism”, the notion that ‘essential’ biological and cultural differences exist between male and female. Such essentialism is said to pose “philosophical dilemmas for those seeking to address occupational segregation”. In particular, the current-day focus on diversity management effectively legitimates the notion that those biological and cultural differences do exist, such that diversity agendas, in emphasising the separate gender traits and identities, in fact only go to perversely sustain “occupational ghettoization”. What biological and cultural differences exist between male and female that would go to determine what type of insolvency ‘ghetto’ each gender might work in, I’ll leave others to say: see Feminist input to the theories of insolvency? – Murrays Legal

Perhaps we should just cut through all this and go back to the fact that only 9% of liquidators are women and accept that ‘something should be done about it’? 


[1] (2022) 22(3&4) INSLB 54

[2] Joyce, Y., and Walker, S. P. (2015) 40 Gender essentialism and occupational segregation in insolvency practice. Accounting, Organizations and Society, pp. 41-60

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