Despite the fact that many people think women aren’t interested in math and science, the number of women currently working in the accounting industry suggests otherwise. More and more women are choosing to become accountants, and this is hardly a new trend. Between 1983 and 2012, the number of female accountants grew from 39% to 60%.
One key reason so many women are going into accounting is because they believe it’s a career that allows them to have the work-life balance they need to have a both a career and a family. With mobile technology becoming more widely available, many accounting firms have experienced a cultural shift toward greater flexibility in the workplace, creating more options for working mothers.
While mobile technology has certainly played a role in helping make the workplace more flexible, it’s also a move that makes good business sense. The trend toward flexible schedules at accounting firms can be traced back to the early-to-mid 1990s when demand for accountants was on the rise and firms simply couldn’t afford to be losing good, hard-working women. After all these years, accountants are still in high demand and many firms have become more flexible than ever before. In the 2013 article “Behind the Numbers: When it Comes to Female CPAs, Statistics are Not Black and White,” Judy Kaltenbacher points out that what were once referred to as “mommy tracks” are now simply called flexible schedules since working mothers aren’t the only ones to benefit from them.
Approximately half of all CPAs are women, which is another way for women in accounting to have more control over their careers. As a licensed CPA, you always have the option to stop working for a firm and open up your own practice if you really want to call all the shots. Whether they specialize in a niche or prefer to have a more general practice, CPAs are often able to strike out on their own and have no shortage of work, no matter how much time they’re able to dedicate to working each week.
The simple fact that lots of women are pursuing careers in accounting has also helped attract more women to the field. It’s easier for young women to find the confidence to start pursuing a career in a something that’s traditionally been seen as a male-dominated field when there are other successful women in the industry to serve as role models and who can mentor young accountants.
Progress to be Made
Although lots of women are enrolling in accounting programs and women are very well-represented in entry-to-middle level accounting positions, those numbers decline the further up you go up in the hierarchy. According to the 2015 CPA Firm Gender Survey conducted by the AICPA, just 24% of all partnership positions at CPA firms were held by women, which is a 5% increase from 2013. However, if you look at the numbers broken down by the size of the firm, the numbers show that more women tend to make partner at smaller firms. In that survey, the AICPA found that 43% of partnerships at firms with 2 to 10 CPAs and 39% of partnerships at firms with 11 to 20 CPAs were held by women.
As is the case with partnerships, the number of women who have equity ownership in firms also tends to skew higher at smaller firms. In the 2015 Firm Gender Survey, 84% of partners who had ownership equity in firms with 100+ CPAs were men, whereas 40% of partners with ownership equity at firms with 2-10 CPAs were women. Many women are also choosing to go into business for themselves, with 26% of solo practices being owned by women.
So, what’s keeping women out of the top spots at larger firms? If you ask some CPAs who are women, they’ll probably tell you it’s the lifestyle that comes with being partner. In a 2015 survey by the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 38% of people who chose to go into another sector rather than move up in the ranks in public accounting said they did so because of the lack of a work-life balance.
Regardless of gender, a lot of people simply have no desire to ever become a partner. Being a partner is very demanding and the prestige of having that title just isn’t worth it for a lot of people. Once you make partner, the hours get longer, there’s more travel involved, and you’ll spend more time away from home, networking and securing new business. For many women, those kinds of demands mean having much less time to spend with their children and they’ll gladly decide to put their families first.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean firms aren’t taking steps to make it possible for women to move into partnership positions if that’s their goal. 55% of firms have partners who use flexible work arrangements and in most cases, more women than men are taking advantage of those programs.