Women in Accounting
Top executive roles in the accounting profession, as well as many other areas of business, have traditionally been dominated by males. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reports that women have represented nearly half of the number of new CPAs for the past twenty years, but the percentage of women in accounting that are represented in top leadership positions is much lower. Currently, “women account for only 14.3% of Executive Officer positions in business and industry and 19% of partners in CPA firms nationwide.”6
It’s evident that our current business environment still has room to progress in promoting well qualified and capable women to senior leadership positions.
Why are there presently so few women in accounting advancing to executive level leadership positions?
Lack of Support from Management
A large reason women are not being promoted to the top is because they are not receiving the support they need from their employer. CrossKnowledge created an excellent video to demonstrate how encouragement from managers is essential in promoting women:
In this short video, Avivah Wittenber-Cox – CEO of 20-first, explains that the main reason women turn down promotions is not because they are uninterested or lacking ambition, but because they are concerned about not being able to deliver.3 Women need reassurance that they will have support and understanding from their employer to allow flexibility in their position.
Many women feel as though they are unsuited to be in a top leadership position due to their personal responsibilities outside of the office. Women are observing men in top leadership roles who may be working an excess amount of hours in the office because of a false perception that success can be measured by the number of hours worked. Kristen Rampe, an owner of a consulting firm that provides services to accounting firms, recollected her time working for a Big Four accounting firm in an interview with Fortune Magazine.
“I looked at the people above me and saw no one who had the life I wanted. It wasn’t unusual for people to put in endless hours, especially during audit season, and brag about it. One senior man slept on the couch in his office every night and didn’t see his family for a week,” stated Rampe.4
According to Fortune Magazine, “that kind of 24-7, up-or-out culture may be changing.”4 The latest diversity survey published by AICPA concluded that “the next generation of CPA firm leaders is demanding that firms create a family-friendly environment conducive to a healthy work-life balance.”4 Updates in technology are not only allowing us to work more efficiently, but also provide us with the capability to work anytime from anywhere. The new organizational culture emerging suggests that both men and women who have demonstrated that they are adept should be granted the flexibility to perform their job on their own terms.
Lack of Visibility of Female Leaders
There is a substantial need for female leaders to be more visible in the accounting profession. Many women may be hesitant to aspire to reach for executive level leadership because they have difficulty identifying with the masculine traits displayed by the majority of current leaders.
Women need fellow female role-models to demonstrate that it is possible to successfully lead while integrating a healthy work-life balance and taking a more feminine approach to leadership.
This year, the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA) and the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) partnered with the Accounting MOVE project to promote executive sponsorship for women.2 Sponsors include well-connected firm partners and senior leaders or industry and community influencers who are able to guide women through vital career development steps and advocate for a candidate to attain a specific opportunity or promotion.1 The 2016 Accounting MOVE Project is urging firms to implement a well-structured executive sponsorship program that will lead to the advancement of more women.
The Future for Women in Accounting
As the accounting field continues to grow and a massive number of baby boomers retire from the profession, most firms have realized that the sustainability of their business is dependent upon the progression of women.5 With the continued efforts of several accounting organizations, such as AICPA, to educate firms on the importance of gender diversity at the leadership level, it is likely that we will see increased support to progress women into senior leadership roles in the foreseeable future.
- 2016 Accounting MOVE Project – awscpa.org. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://awscpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016AccountingMOVEReport.pdf
- 2016 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women | MOVE Project. (2016, June 08). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.afwa.org/2016/06/08/2016-best-public-accounting-firms-for-women/
- (2013, March 29). Promoting Women: a specific skill – Avivah Wittenberg-Cox (EN). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omrnStE64aU&list=PLZU4xrBP23S9ZlSe9J5hkDXGQVTi89M1n&index=6
- Fisher, A. (2015). How women can reach the top in accounting. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://fortune.com/2015/09/12/women-accounting/
- Frank Arford and Mary Bennett. (2012, March 8). The state of women in the accounting profession. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.accountingtoday.com/blogs/accounting-tomorrow/crowe-horwath-international-womens-day-61974-1.html
- Gender Issues and Business Case. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.aicpa.org/Career/WomenintheProfession/Pages/GenderIssues.aspx