Just when you think the glass ceiling has finally been shattered, you learn things that set progress back a generation. A key example is women in the accounting workforce. Recent studies show that in order for them to have a fair shot at a partnership or other top spot, an accounting firm has to be especially diligent in outlining women’s career growth opportunities. Otherwise, women lack the critical context to make the right career decision – and you risk losing high-potential talent to the competition.

  • Data released by the Pew Research Center shows that having a high-paying career is a top life priority for women, exceeding the ambitions of men in comparable age groups. Conversations about overall compensation must, however, address the full matrix of work, personal life and economic independence that today’s woman wants and needs.
  • In an accounting firm, when women have a full understanding of how achieving partnership status can help them accomplish their life goals, they are more motivated to stay the course.
  • The challenges facing employers are daunting. According to the 2013 Accounting MOVE Project report, 44 percent of women have been strongly tempted to leave their jobs at least once and more than half are still considering it. To top it off, most of those who responded are senior staff members.

What Barriers Do Women Face?

Women begin their accounting career paths on an optimistic note. MOVE reports that two-thirds of all women choose accounting due to its potential for career advancement and 56 percent are intrigued by its income potential. The disconnect happens at the point where women start walking the partnership path.

  • Left with a vague impression of a hazy career path, women tend to disengage. For instance, many of today’s partners are older men who simply feel uncomfortable talking with younger women about high-potential opportunities.
  • The good news is: A woman’s personal experience, especially related to her firm’s culture, can be a deciding factor in whether she stays or goes. The strongest career pathing programs provide coaches, mentors and leadership training to help high-potential female employees stay on track.

When surveyed as part of the MOVE Project, women in accounting reported the following barriers to reaching partnership-level status:

  • Problematic work/life issues – 68 percent.
  • Lack of female role models – 48 percent.
  • Discouraging cultural factors – 41 percent.
  • Need for earlier emphasis on business development – 40 percent.
  • Need for more defined career pathing – 33 percent.

Strong mentors help bring clarity regarding female accountants’ expectations and potential career paths. As noted by one women who had a successful mentor experience, “Now I feel like I share a common language with leadership about mentoring women.”

On the flip side, in describing the limited access to female role models that women in accounting experience, Melissa Hooley, CPA, chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, remarked that the situation was “like traveling without a guide.”

In the past 20 years, women have comprised 50 percent of accounting graduates and 51 percent of accounting managers, but only 19 percent have reached partnership status. Open, honest conversations about a woman’s next career step appear to be the silver bullet in helping them – and as a result, your firm – to grow and prosper.

Contact Magellan Search & Staffing for additional resources to optimally develop your accounting workforce and leadership.