Leadership / Management | Organizational Development | Training & CPE

Women in the profession: ‘We need to change’

Womene Today sometimes gives you a pretty idea of what tomorrow will look like.

Looking for proof? Let's talk about women in the CPA profession for a minute.

For the past two decades, more than 50 percent of the new CPAs entering the profession have been women. Yet only 15 of the Fortune 500 CEOs -- just 3 percent -- are women. At CPA firms nationwide, women account for only 23 percent of firm partners, and they're leaving the profession in far greater numbers than their male counterparts.

That's kind of funny -- and not in a ha-ha way -- when you look at some of the top issues facing the profession these days.

  • Succession planning: You say you can't find someone to lead your organization into the future? Cry me a river. You're just not looking hard enough. More than half of the profession is right in front of you, begging for an opportunity, and you're not giving it to them.
  • Staffing: Recruitment and retention always find their way to the top of everyone's list of the top issues facing the profession. And yes, it appears we're doing a decent job of recruiting women into the profession. But we can't retain them. And why? Who'll stay if we're not giving them the opportunity to advance?

Still think women's issues don't impact your business?

Think again, says Heidi Brundage.

"We've invested in training and recruiting (women), and we're losing that. It's a dollars-and-cents perspective," says Brundage, a technical manager with the AICPA who focuses on human capital at CPA firms. "We also lose the diversity that we need to do the jobs that we do. Our marketplace is changing. We need to change along with it. Some of the specialty areas and niches that we serve are changing, and women bring some unique skills and qualities to those areas. we don't want to lose that; otherwise, we'll lose business and revenue."

Brundage has been paying close attention to women in the profession lately. And sure, the numbers tell an important story.

Equally important, though, are the reasons for the numbers. Brundange says there are a number of barriers that impact a woman's odds of advancing through the profession, including:

  • Unequal access to career development / advocacy experiences.
  • Limited access to female role models.
  • Work / life balance: Rigid career models, societal norms and demands of the profession leave women with unrealistic ideal of what's expected of them.

To get past these obstacles, Brundage says women in the profession need confidence in their abilities, appropriate role models, assertiveness, support networks ... and "to get over the guilt" of not being everything to everyone.

I spent some time recently talking with Heidi at the 2010 Interchange Conference in Los Angeles, where she talked about these issues and what the AICPA is doing about them. Listen to what she had to say by watching this video.

Does this strike a chord with any of you women out there? Let me know what you think, then check out these related resources:


Bill Sheridan