With Help of Accounting Industry, Career Paths are More Clearly Defined

Men in the accounting field aren't alone anymore on the path to becoming partners in their firms. CPA firms are making great strides toward assuring women the same opportunities as men by providing mentoring and a clearly defined path to success.

The latest data available from American Colleges and Universities shows that in the 2001-2002 academic year, 57 percent of those receiving bachelor's degrees in accounting were women, compared to 43 percent male accounting graduates. Over one-third of all these graduates will take their first job in public accounting. Also, 59% of females with master's degrees in accounting are hired in the field, versus a 55% placement rate for men (AICPA report on the supply and demand of public accounting graduates, 2003).

Barbara Vigilante of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) knows that the accounting industry is a leader in thinking about the future of the profession from a woman's point of view. Her organization formed a committee, originally called "Upward Mobility of Women," to address the needs of women CPAs in 1989. "AICPA leaders noticed the trend when more and more women were graduating and obtaining their CPA designations," says Vigilante. "They immediately wanted to know, 'how can we help retain more women in the profession?'" The AICPA has worked diligently since then to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry to keep ahead of the trends. "The committee has now adopted the more gender-neutral name "Work/Life and Women's Initiatives" to acknowledge the fact that not just women need a balance in their careers," said Vigilante.

In 1993, the AIPCA started a longitudinal study that surveys public accounting firms regularly in hopes of helping women employed in the field. Women and men both have cited the rigorous demands of public accounting as reasons for leaving the field for a more family-friendly job in business and industry. Although the annual turnover rates for men and women in public accounting are remarkably similar, the vast majority of senior-level positions are still held by men.

"More and more management jobs are going to women, and this is the talent pool we'll be looking to lead public firms into the future," said Vigilante. Vigilante's committee at AICPA published a booklet of guidelines for women in public accounting called "Promoting Your Talent," in 2003. A new edition will be coming out in the Fall of 2004 and will include updated tips on how to get ahead in a public accounting career.

The accounting firm of Clifton Gunderson takes work-life balance issues seriously and makes it a priority to create career paths for women to maintain that sometimes fragile balance. "I've found through the years that people wait for others to solve their work-life balance issues," says Kris Kaland, Director of Assurance Services and partner at Clifton Gunderson. "Everyone's needs and responsibilities are different, so it's up to each individual to determine what's best for them." Kaland also stresses the importance of having a mentor in your firm to help teach you the ropes and keep work in perspective.

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