As firms of all shapes and sizes rush to the drawing board to prepare for a future market defined by trends like automation and globalization, many are simultaneously realizing the value of empowering more women in their operations. An oft-underrepresented demographic in the industry, women are increasingly coming into their own in the accounting field, and are helping firms reshape the way they do business.
So how exactly can a savvy accountancy firm empower more women for the benefit of its employees, its business, and the broader market? What common steps do most successful firms take, and what are the common pitfalls? A brief look at the field of accounting shows just how valuable female employees are, and why firms are right to include them more.
Recognizing the best talent
A vital rule that any business in every industry must follow to be successful is recognizing the best talent when it’s staring you in the face. Increasingly, today’s female workforce is exceptionally well-prepared for the demands of the modern office space, but often denied the opportunities to prove it; women today are actually more likely than men to go to and graduate from college, and this phenomenon is trending in their direction more and more.
Nonetheless, women are drastically underrepresented in the field, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. In the past few decades, women have made up roughly 50% of new CPAs in the accounting profession, but are still woefully absent from executive post; women account for only 19% of partners in nationwide CPA firms, for instance.
To put it frankly, today’s firms are simply losing out on the best talent and most capable workers, often because they’re incapable of seeing the bias in their own selection processes. Overt sexism is an issue in and of itself, but many firms are also turning away women in droves merely because they fail to recognize how unequal the system is in the first place, and haven’t taken steps to ensure all applicants are being treated equally.
By not investing as heavily in their human capital as they should be, firms are losing valuable female employees and innovators to other industries with fewer barriers to entry for non-traditional (in this case, non-male) employees. A CPA firm can’t possibly expect to adequately service female clients if it lacks women in its own ranks, and will possess many more blind spots when it comes to forecasting market conditions and broader societal-business trends.
Changing the established cultures of accounting firms won’t be easy, but companies and individuals within them alike need to understand steps must be taken not only for the sake of equality between the sexes, but in order to thrive in a marketplace that increasingly values diverse viewpoints. So how can a CPA firm go about empowering women within its ranks for the betterment of all?
Building tomorrow’s leadership
Building a diverse leadership team capable of tackling tomorrow’s business challenges won’t be easy, but firms have a number of options that have already been proven as being effective to exploit. Firms should establish sponsorship programs for all of their new, younger employees, pairing them up with successful, older workers who can act as role models in the profession.
Similarly, workshops and conferences which highlight the beneficial aspect of women in the accounting field can help foster change in the profession. Creating or taking part in large events where accountants from different backgrounds can meet and network with one another can help show employees of all stripes the true diversity of the field, and expose them to new perspectives which improve their effectiveness in the workplace.
When firms focus on developing all of their employees’ skills by embracing positive change, they greatly increase their marketability and rates of success. Women’s initiative programs, for instance, are a tried-and-tested method of bettering your workforce that’s often touted by the AICPA.
As firms recognize the value of investing more in women, they’ll achieve other positive developments as well. Understanding the unique burden placed on women when they’re at home, for instance, where they’re often shouldering the majority of the physical and emotional labor, can help a CPA firm empower all of its employees to get more done in the workplace so they can relax and recharge once they’ve left the office.
Creating a viable career path for women in accounting won’t be done overnight, and will require some firms and their employees to sacrifice in order to be successful. Welcoming women into the field, however, will undoubtedly increase the effectiveness of today’s CPA firms and allow them to offer greater services than ever before. As accountants rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century, empowering women to join the ranks of the field is one way they can ensure long-lasting success.
Gary Eastwood is a CPA licensed senior accountant from Seattle, Washington. He received his CPA license from the Washington State Board of Accountancy in 2001 before relocating to Onawa, Iowa in 2008. Over more than 15 years of accounting experience, Gary has worked with multinational health service providers and independent CPA firms. He has a proven ability in dealing with business clients from a variety of backgrounds as well as leading companies to greater efficiency and profitability. He is familiar with both US GAAP and China GAAP.