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How Female Accountants Can Excel as Leaders

Although about half of all accountants are women, men are still elevated to partner status far more frequently. Loren Fogelman explains why women deserve a seat at the table, as well as how to maximize their leadership qualities.

Oct 5th 2020
Price and Profit Coach Business Success Solution
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Walk into an upper management meeting of most accounting firms. Then, scan the room. As you do so, closely study the faces around the table.

Something’s missing: Diversity. Despite the nearly equal female/male split of the accounting profession, significantly more men rise up as partners.

Women remain in junior positions far longer than their male colleagues. Watching your peers advance can be discouraging. What can women do to move into the corner office suite?

The Harvard Business Review reveals men apply for positions and accept work when they meet a mere 60 percent of the requirements. Women, even when equally qualified, don’t apply until they meet 100 percent of the requirements.

Well, some women have grown tired of waiting for recognition. Instead of passively waiting to be asked, they opt to proactively pursue their career goals. 

Opportunities Come and Go

An HBR survey asked women why they don’t apply for advancement at the same time as their male colleagues.  Your first guess may cite lack of confidence. But, that’s not true.

Women believe applying too soon, without full qualifications, is a waste of time and energy. Since they don’t believe they have a chance, they don’t go for it.

For women to earn leadership positions, we need to consider two aspects:

  1. Women who want to advance their career.
  2. Companies that seek greater diversity.

Women: Claim Your Seat at the Table

High-achieving women often doubt their abilities.

  • They’re not smart enough.
  • They lack credentials.
  • Not enough years in the field.

This is a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. Avoiding confrontation is easier than dealing with someone who may challenge your credentials. Beliefs like this stem from cultural messages about following the rules, playing nice and not stepping out of line. By default, the position goes to someone who applied for it – even if that person is less qualified. 

The Bottleneck

If you don’t claim it, you don’t get it. Fortunately, a solution exists. Women who work closely with a mentor pursue open positions sooner, even when they’re not fully qualified.

That was my experience, too. Offering support is easier than asking for it. As a problem solver, I figure things out on my own. Doing it all myself, however, slows me down.

My comfort zone interfered with my ambition. A bottleneck existed, because I was getting in my own way. With this realization, I sought a mentor who had already achieved what I wanted for myself.

The Feminine Leadership Mindset

I’m not a natural-born leader. And, my education didn’t prepare me to be a business owner.

  1. Mentorship: I sought out mentors who were successful business owners in the community.
  2. Coaching: Each coach I hired specialized in a specific aspect of business development.
  3. Outside Organizations: I’ve held leadership positions in various organizations i.e. the local chamber of commerce, networking organizations and professional associations. Currently, I’m involved in a Professional Women’s Toastmasters club.  

I adopted a new mantra, “If it’s uncomfortable, then I ought to be doing it.”

Lead with Your Strengths

By the way, adapting to a man’s leadership style doesn’t work for women. The attempt to blend in has a downside. Women who suppress their feminine nature risk developing stress related health issues or burn out.

A better way exists: Rather than a woman downplaying her innate qualities, she needs to embrace them. Feminine leadership acknowledges her natural strengths.

Firms Gain a Competitive Advantage

Firms that add women to their leadership team gain an edge. Emotional intelligence (EI) is a buzzword for corporations. Empathy, communication and inclusion are highly desired traits. Women naturally possess these important qualities.

Henry Ford claimed the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, and view things from their perspective, is the greatest secret to success.

Firms with more women at the top make more money. Profit margins can increase by 21 percent. That’s because women focus on inclusion, not competition. A team approach means “we” before “me.”

Feminine leaders believe each person adds value and fills an important role. A culture develops where all team member feel seen and heard. Different perspectives due to education, gender, culture and color lead to rich new insights and more effective processes. As a result, company performance improves.

Remember, feminine leaders inspire others. When the team works closely together, they grow together.

Three Qualities of Feminine Leaders

1. Empathy: The superhero, Wonder Woman, possesses a unique super power. It’s empathy. Her passion to do the right thing, no matter how inconvenient, fuels her mission.

Feminine leaders support others to challenge their limits. Of course, mistakes do occur. Instead of dwelling on the mistake, the team gains insight from the experience. 

2. Communication: Effective communication combines science and art. The science offers tools and a process. The art tailors how to deliver the information.

Confident leaders ask great questions. They take a genuine interest in others. Before responding to a team members challenge, leaders ask, “Do you want me to listen, do you want me to fix, or do you want me to coach?”

3. Inclusion: Inclusion, not division, increases employee retention. The mindset of “we” before “me” creates a work environment where people feel comfortable. As a result, each team member brings their authentic self to work.

The accounting profession continues to evolve. Growth-minded firms seek diversity of thought, perspective, education, gender, culture and color.

Here’s the byproduct:

  • Fresh ideas,
  • An expanded range of skills,
  • A broader range of new clients,
  • Increased profits. 

Your Journey

Leadership is a journey, not a destination.

Focus on the mutual gains for a win-win. Women speed up their professional development when they work closely with a mentor, either within the firm or outside of it.

Firm’s which support feminine leadership enjoy dividends beyond the obvious. Don’t ignore the numbers. A direct correlation exists between diversity, performance and profitability. 

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