Purpose: This paper aims to highlight differences in women's experiences of advancement to partnership in accountancy firms in Germany and the UK and consider the ways in which such differences may be constituted by the institutional context in which they occurred. Design/methodology/approach: This research is based on 60 semi-structured interviews with women partners in Germany and the UK. Techniques adopted from grounded theory were applied. Research limitations/implications: This qualitative research is context-specific and given its cross-national, interdisciplinary nature is limited to the extent that findings cannot be generalised beyond the studied scope. Practical implications: The study points to cross-national differences in women's career advancement in accountancy firms. The findings support extant research suggesting that structured performance evaluation and hiring systems - while not without flaws - are likely more gender-neutral. In addition, the study highlights the potential of headhunters and recruitment agents as an important tool for women to navigate their way out of career culs-de-sac. Originality/value: This research provides unique insights into women partners' experiences of career advancement and, through its interdisciplinary nature, demonstrates the usefulness of employing institutional frameworks in qualitative in-depth studies of this kind.