Numbering the Days of the Glass Ceiling in Accounting
March 23, 2017
By Lori F. Reiner and Diane M. Wasser, EisnerAmper
One of the first questions people typically ask with respect to gender workplace parity is “does the glass ceiling truly exist?” One statistic from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) indicates only 18% of those in leadership roles are women. As for the accounting sector, while women now comprise 50% of college accounting program graduates, only 24% of women are partners at firms – that’s according to an American Institute of CPAs’ survey. There is a litany of similar statistics from a host of organizations. Thus, for the time being, there is little doubt that the glass ceiling is securely in place.
Most women agree that one of their biggest challenges as they ascend the professional ladder is finding that overall balance among the competing identities of work, family, community and self. One thought is to manage this balance issue as early as possible in one’s career, rather than looking at it much later from the C-suite, or confronting it as a partner issue. By changing old-fashioned ideas about where, when, and how we work, organizations can support all women as they build careers and families.
Technology has been enormously helpful in this regard. Now, many people can work whenever and wherever they want, so they are able to better prioritize responsibilities. Also, thanks to the increasing normalization of flexible and work-at-home scheduling, young employees, of either sex, can better achieve that work-life balance without compromising their journey to the top.
Another challenge is the difference in the way men and women communicate—that whole Venus and Mars stereotype. It might necessitate a woman making more of an effort to have her voice heard and her ideas receive true consideration. It’s not enough just being prepared for a meeting, it’s actively inserting oneself into the dialog.
According to The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, it takes at least three women in a room to make the communication environment more equitable and favorable to women. While those ratios aren’t always possible, women may need to strengthen their voices to create their own equitable environment. The key is for men and women to be open and strive to understand each other and their communication styles.
The good news: The current average starting class at an accounting firm is more than 50% female. The not-so-good news: That number gets diluted as a class either advances or as members leave the profession. Women tend to leave the industry around manager-level, whereas men who have reached that level in their careers tend to stay. You can say the industry does a great job recruiting women from school; however, there are clearly many opportunities to do a better job retaining them rather than see them leave at such a critical juncture in their careers. From an accounting firm’s perspective, this loss of skilled professional employees comes at an enormous replacement cost as women with hard-earned and valuable corporate knowledge depart. Even more importantly, if this current trend continues, gender (and compensation) parity become a far-too-distant reality.
EisnerAmper is taking several steps to make sure that reality happens sooner versus later. The Women of EisnerAmper’s internal initiative brings together female professionals for valuable development training and mentoring opportunities. Using the resources, tools and relationships gained from the program, staff at all levels can better manage career growth opportunities.
All new EisnerAmper accountants and interns at the firm are assigned a career counselor. They meet both formally and informally to set expectations, explore career growth and build a supportive relationship. Counselors can offer career advice, such as on work-life balance. Counselors make themselves readily accessible to address concerns and serve as an empathetic, knowledgeable resource. The firm also aims to instill in team members a sense of confidence as well as the drive to challenge themselves in the workplace. While this helps all of our staff, it is particularly helpful to up-and-coming women as they chart their own professional course.
Many of EisnerAmper partners are involved in external efforts, such as the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s pilot Mentoring Program, which pairs seasoned leaders with millennial professionals. These relationships become a two-way street, as reverse mentoring pays real dividends. The seasoned professionals gain a keen perspective on where millennials are coming from and get insight into different ways they can approach work and life. Those rising stars have just as much to offer, and building that bridge benefits all.
Beyond formalized mentoring programs, the women of EisnerAmper serve as everyday role models to young female family members and friends through community activities, such as sports, the Girl Scouts and others. It’s a notion of “conscientious sponsorship” – identify up-and-coming leaders across a variety of environments, support them in their efforts and have everyone succeed together.
The wheels of societal change often grind slowly, but they do move forward. Changing attitudes; advances in technology; and understanding the need for timely, comprehensive programs at the firm-level are helping women achieve traditional leadership roles in a contemporary manner.