Women make slow but steady climb through ranks of CPA firms

Women CPAs have been making a slow but steady climb through the ranks of public accounting. Yet in the seventh year the Illinois CPA Society, through its Women's Executive Committee, has conducted its Annual Survey on the Role of Women in CPA Firms, the findings show the struggle continues to reach the very top leadership positions.

The just released 2009 survey findings show a slight increase in the number of women represented in firm/office management positions, up to 12.4 percent from 10 percent last year after gaining a steady one point increase each year. There has also been gradual improvement in the overall number of women in executive positions from 10.6 percent in 2006 to 18.7 percent in 2009. And while the survey finds the number of women entering public accounting firms has decreased from 54 percent in 2003 to 49 percent in 2009, the rate at which women are being retained increased slightly - three percentage points - over the same period.

However, the number of men still far outweighs the number of women in partner/principal positions – men hold 82.4 percent of those positions, women 17.6 percent. These percentages are nearly identical to last year's finding of 82.8 percent for men and 17.2 percent for women, and varied little from year to year.

"Careerbuilder.com recently cited 'Accountant and auditor' as one of the ten most promising jobs for the class of 2009," said Elaine Weiss, president and CEO of the Illinois CPA Society. "Our challenge is to complete the climb women have made in the profession, so all young grads know they can take their career to the highest level."

The 2009 Accounting Women survey was distributed to 90 public accounting firms in Illinois with 15 or more professionals to track the percentage of women at different levels of the organization – partner/principal, senior manager/manager, and senior staff. It also gauges the effectiveness of initiatives and programs targeted to women with findings based on responses from individual women and the firms.

Flexible work arrangements and mentoring programs continue to be most in demand among women working at firms that do not offer these types of initiatives. However, there's some discrepancy on the perception of their effectiveness. For example, 57 percent of the firms rated flexible work arrangements as "highly effective," while 45 percent of the women rated them "moderately effective." The Society's Women's Executive Committee plans on taking a look at firms that have been successful at promoting women to see if their efforts can be used by others.

Copies of the complete survey results are available by contacting Judi Kulm at 312-993-0407.

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