The Ass Backward Award

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By Dave Burt, CPA - I’m trying to persuade my 18 year old daughter to become an accountant. She’s in her first year of college and I’m trying to convince her that accounting is a rock solid profession with plenty of growth opportunity, good pay and a good field for women. She wanted to know how many accountants are women and do they make the same money as everyone else? What would happen if I got married and wanted a baby? Would that be okay? Her questions gave me pause to think and persuaded me to look into just where the accounting profession was headed.
I didn’t get far when I was hit with the fact that more than 55% of accounting students are women. (1) Wow. In my college days in the late ‘70’s we were lucky if we had 3 or 4 women in an accounting class! What a change. If estimates are correct, by 2014, the AICPA will lose to retirement, about 250,000 members (75% of its current mostly male membership)(2) and could gain 145,000 women if every alumna joins.(3)
Could that change the face of the accounting profession? Well, I’ve managed male staff accountants and I’ve managed female staff accountants and while they are technically comparable, women often bring with then different perspectives, different priorities. The following is an example: In the mid ‘80's I had an office that was next door to the financial reporting department. They had five staff accountants, all males. They also had a department award called: The Ass Backward Award---only it was written backwards. At the top of the 18” award was a gold plastic molded rear half of a mule (the ass) on two legs. Any staff accountant that made an entry backwards would be presented with the award. You were required to let it resided on the top of your cubicle for all (including those passing in the hall) to witness. Of course, boys being boys, each recipient would get a good ribbing at the mock award ceremony. For the first year or two, no one complained, not until we hired our first female staff accountant. She was a little Irish spit fire right out of college and a very good student. For some reason she was not hired by one of the big public accounting firms. Maybe not the image they wanted at the time.
After she went through a close or two she made a journal entry backwards and was presented with the award. As is the custom, it would stay with the current “winner” until someone else was awarded the honor. Well, for some reason, she couldn’t get the hang of the entries and it sat there month after month until she could stand it no longer. One morning, maybe after being ribbed one to many times, red faced, she stormed into the department manager’s office, then, apparently not getting enough sympathy, stormed down to the controller’s office. Within a short time, the award was permanently retired.
While no man worth his salt (is that saying making sense anymore?) would have complained, I think everyone was secretly glad. In the end, our new hire change the department dynamics. She moved the roughhousing outside. It was better. I think more work got done right.

(1) The Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits---AICPA 2005

(2) AICPA Annual Report 2005-2006

(3) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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