How Technology Can Break the Glass Ceiling in Accounting
The first official qualification test for certified public accountants took place in New York in 1896. In those early years, the field of accounting was tough for women to enter. In fact it wasn’t until 1899 when Christine Ross earned top marks in the New York state exam to become the first woman CPA. Ross’ certification opened up the profession for millions—including my great aunt, who was one of the first CPAs in the state of Minnesota in the early 1900s, and much later, me!
Currently women make up 60 percent of all accountants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, despite the female dominance in the profession, a gender gap still exists at the partner level: According to a 2012 report by Catalyst, only 21 percent of partners are women.
In my experience, it was technology that helped me break through the gender ceiling and created opportunity in my career path. As a young accountant, I was fortunate enough to have recognized the power of technology and the insights it provided to my clients. At the time, I created new service lines around outsourced accounting services that were not prevalent in the accounting profession.
Because I blazed a different path, rather than just followed along with tax or audit, I created a new revenue stream for my firm and later became a partner at 32. I am offering up my history not to brag, but to empower women accountants to explore the digital accounting path as a way to achieve success. Here are ways cloud technology can create a new type of practice and ramp up your career:
Technology Creates Opportunities. Today’s modern accountant is a financial advisor utilizing technology to provide clients with holistic views of their businesses. This new approach to the profession offers an opportunity to expand businesses and elevate personal brands not just within your state or country borders, but globally as well.
Becoming a technologist is easier than the word implies. Learning what technology like the cloud can do for your clients and familiarizing yourself with the various platforms available will ratchet up the type of advice you can provide. Think of it this way: today you know the math behind the calculator. With the cloud, all that information is at your fingertips so you don’t have to take hours to calculate. Instead you can provide the advice that your clients so desperately want in real time.
Technology Makes You Flexible. My career has me constantly on the go, traveling from city to city or between countries, always in different time zones. The cloud provides you the flexibility and mobility to keep you organized and connected with work, family and friends. The cloud allows you to remain up to date on all client activity so that you can provide better advice and take care of business on your timeline, from anywhere you are.
Technology Makes You Competitive. In the last few years, I have seen more men turn to technology as early adopters than women. The profession is changing and being well-versed in new technology puts you ahead of the competition. It’s better to be an early adopter and be established so you can be a thought leader in the industry.
Take the time to understand all the tools that are available and seek help from mentors and organizations such as the Accounting and Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) and the American Institute of CPAs. Organizations and mentors can clarify jargon and teach you a few tricks, helping to elevate your knowledge of the subject matter and differentiating you from the rest of the pack.
You Can Tap into New Revenue. I started working for my mom at the age of 12. I can recall accompanying her to trade shows and conferences and asking many questions of the entrepreneurs around me. At this early age I learned that accountants were highly revered and knowledgeable, not just for their understanding of numbers, but also for their understanding of the business process. While the business process hasn’t changed much over the years, the way that we as accountants extrapolate the data and provide advice has. We now offer business analysis and real-time recommendations, becoming ongoing, strategic partners in our clients' businesses.
You Will Work with Other Women. Many women business owners out there that feel more comfortable engaging with other women. By being one of the early few that embrace technology and incorporate it into your practice, you provide alternatives to the many male early adopters. Gaining a new customer is not always about what price you charge or the location you are in; many times it is the comfort level a prospect feels with you. In my practice, I had many new clients come to me because they were looking for a practice that understood technology and really wanted to be working with a woman. These opportunities arise all the time. The way to be ready is to start the journey and re-think how you are going to deliver your services through the cloud.
As women, many of us feel like we have to know everything before we take a risk and try something new with our business. Vice versa, many men will jump into technology without knowing everything they need to know, but are willing to take a risk. Don’t be concerned about what you don’t know—there are plenty of resources around you to assist, and it’s OK to not know everything. No one expects perfection; what they want is collaboration. The cloud can help get you there.
Join an organization like the AFWA, attend meet-ups and conferences to continue learning, and meet other women who can mentor you and help you in your career. Many companies, such as Xero, have educational resources and conferences to help you meet your peers and learn how they are using technology in their practices, and to get you up and running.
Keep Christine Ross, the first woman CPA in the back of your mind with what she did for women and accounting. This is your opportunity to be a part of this next phase of breaking new ground for women in the industry and get excited to start playing at the same level in this field as your male counterparts.
About the author:
Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the Global Vice President of Education and Enablement for Xero. In this role, she is responsible for developing and executing Xero’s worldwide education strategy with a focus on Xero University (Xero U) and Xero TV. Follow her on Twitter @AmyVetterCPA.
Amy Vetter is a CPA.CITP, CGMA and is an accomplished c-suite executive and board member with deep experience in cloud technology and transformation, creating go-to- market (GTM) strategies to scale businesses nationally and internationally. Amy has held multiple roles in Fortune 500, startup, small company rapid growth, and is a serial...