Women have not always enjoyed equality in the workplace, and many people would argue women are still fighting for equality in the office. The accounting industry is no exception. The number of female partners and principals in CPA firms moved to an average of 22 percent in 2015 from 17 percent five years ago — but there is still room to improve.
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The reality is that women have been met with unjust restrictions in the accounting world for a long time, and while circumstances for women are improving, there is a long way to go. According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), for the last 20 years women have made up more than half of all accounting graduates in the U.S., yet less than 20 percent of accounting partners are women — and that trend is even more pronounced looking at the Big Four accounting firms. Deloitte and KPMG have females accounting for less than 19 percent its partners while just 18 percent of the partners at Ernst & Young and only 17 percent of the partners at PricewaterhouseCoopers are female, according to the data presented by Catalyst.org.
One possible reason for the gender imbalance is that long hours and a highly are part of the territory in the accounting world. Workload is often doled out on the basis of availability and women have traditionally had less available hours in the day — or at least that is the perception. It is true that women make up a disproportionate number of CPAs who work seasonally or only part-time, but there is more to it than that.
Another issue is that just 63 percent of business women have had the chance to be mentored professionally, according to a 2012 study by talent management consulting company DDI. Creating mentorship opportunities may help change the gender imbalance and encourage more women to join the field year-round.
How to Change Things
Overall, the accounting field often lacks diversity when it comes to gender. However, recognizing this imbalance and working towards correcting it are the first steps to creating real change. If accounting firms, or any companies for that matter, are going to attract and retain top talent, which includes women, those companies need to address the reasons why women are leaving and understand the benefits of diversity. For instance, research suggests that more diverse teams, and more diverse leadership in particular, enjoys greater productivity than more homogenous groups.
Developing opportunities for networking and mentorships can make a big difference. Organizations like the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA), the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA), and AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC) are active groups that help facilitate those opportunities. There are also many female-friendly firms like Smith Sullivan & Company in Westborough, Massachusetts which employs all women.
The accounting field is slowly becoming more diverse, driven by companies that are embracing diversity and organizations that work to connect and empower females in the accounting industry. Hopefully, that trend continues on in the future.