The gender gap in the workplace is often a subject of political and social debate, but for an aspiring accountant, the question is more targeted. How does the gender gap apply to the field of accounting? While statistics show that a large percentage of certified public accountants (CPAs) are women, they also show that women seldom become partners in accounting firms or executive leaders of businesses. The gender gap in the field of accounting is worth addressing, but fortunately, some of the biggest firms in the industry are making history by creating a culture and establishing role models that help women advance.
Beyond the Statistics
More than half of all accounting graduates are women, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). However, only about 19 percent of partners at accounting firms are female, which shows that a gender gap does exist in leadership positions in accounting. It isn’t only the field of accounting that is struggling with a gender gap in leadership. Women account for just 14.3 percent of Executive Officer positions in the business world.
The Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee of the AICPA identifies three major focus areas that need addressing: the visibility and advancement of female accounting leaders, accounting firm culture and educating women in accounting with credible statistics. Factors such as having fewer role models and less access to career development opportunities can mean that women in the field of accounting aren’t as well equipped to plan their career paths as their male counterparts with these advantages are. Culture in accounting firms is another important concern, especially for women who are trying to balance work in a fast-paced professional career like accounting with family obligations. Historically, large accounting firms have had cultures of competition, where staff accountants were required to work long and often inflexible hours, Forbes reported.
Positive Changes for Women in Accounting
The good news is that opportunities for women in the field of accounting are growing, as evidenced by recent news. In February 2015, one of the Big Four accounting firms, Deloitte LLP, made history when it named Cathy Engelbert its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). It was the first time any of the Big Four firms had ever hired a female CEO. Engelbert said in an interview with Accounting Today that, though neither the firm nor the accounting field as a whole currently has enough female leaders, “what’s important about my election into the CEO role at Deloitte is to provide a role model for the next generation of diverse leaders.” Currently, the AICPA and other organizations cite this lack of female role models in leadership positions as one of the biggest problems facing women in accounting.
For women considering an accounting career, the news that females are severely underrepresented in leadership positions can be daunting. The advancement of Engelbert and other female professionals into high-level positions like CEO should provide encouragement for women who aspire to attain leadership roles in the field of accounting.