“I’m looking forward to the time where [women in our profession] no longer need events to talk about our concerns and issues,” says Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, past-chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) - the unified voice of the AICPA and CIMA. “But that day is not today, and we still need events and activities that highlight and showcase the talent that women bring to organisations.”
March 8 marks one of those events: International Women's Day, which brings the world together in celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The reality is that accounting and finance are among the many professional sectors where women are still under-represented.
A 2019 study analysed the data from 25 accountancy firms in the UK and found that although women make up 44% of the workforce, they hold just a quarter of board positions. Additionally, just two of the top 25 boards had a 50/50 gender split. Four boards were 100 percent male.
Study after study finds that companies with more women in leadership roles reap a competitive advantage; companies with gender diversity are 45 percent more likely to report improved market share as compared to the previous year.
Having more women in leadership roles is good for society, too. According to the World Economic Forum, countries with greater female representation are more prosperous and competitive.
Early in their careers, women make up nearly half of all accountants. A 2019 study published by the Financial Reporting Council, stated that the overall percentage of women studying accounting worldwide was approximately 49% in 2017, up from 48% in 2013. So, what happens between studying accountancy and the executive board? Tracey Golden, CPA, CGMA, vice-chairman of the AICPA says, “We still need more equity in pay and promotion capabilities…too few women are getting promoted early in their career, and then there’s not enough women to promote later into C-suites and to boards.”
Four steps to bridge the gap
So, what can women (and their male counterparts and managers) do to help bridge the divide? You can find a few easy-to-implement tips below:
- A little less conversation, a little more action.
“We need to make [gender equity] a focus of what we do – not just what we talk about,” says Golden. “We need the actions to match up with our conversation, so that we can actually move the gender equity in companies forward.”
Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals is a tried-and-true way to move the needle from ideation to concrete results. “[The accountancy profession] has done a great job of putting work-life initiatives in place, but I don't think we've defined the results,” says Michelle Sullivan, CPA, director, Freed Maxick. “I think we've got to have much more clarity on what success looks like and then we've got to figure out a way to get there and get there faster.”
- Embrace flexible work arrangements.
Yasmine El-Ramly, CPA, CGMA and director of governance at the Association recalled a story of a young leader who was told she could not advance at her firm on a flexible work arrangement. “You can see, despite the progress we've made, we still have a long way to go to change some of the daily challenges that women are facing,” she says. “There is still room to grow.”
Workplaces are using flexible working arrangements as a draw for new talent. And employees consider a company’s flexibility, compensation, benefits, and management style as a reason for staying at or leaving a job.
Part of this trend is driven by millennials who, according to research by CBRE, currently account for almost half the workforce and are expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. This is a generation driven by experience rather than material things—and it’s no coincidence that their rise into professional life corresponds to a newfound appreciation for work-life balance.
"Having an employer who respects my flexibility needs and knows that I'm not taking advantage of it, is what makes me a better accountant and a good employee,” says Rosie Brammer, CPA, Beemer, Smith & Munro.
- Take it a step further and set up a women’s initiative in your workplace.
According to McKinsey, companies report that they are highly committed to diversity. But that commitment seldom translates into meaningful progress. The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled.
Creating a gender balance at an organisation must be developed through strategies and actions designed to attract, hire and retain women and provide them with the tools, resources and career pathways to grow. The AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee has developed a step-by-step implementation plan that organisations can adapt to jump-start or refresh existing initiatives.
- Support the AICPA & CIMA Global Women’s Summit.
Attend, sponsor someone to attend or better yet, attend together!
“The AICPA & CIMA Global Women's Leadership Summit brings together like-minded women for a common purpose of renewing and invigorating, energizing our minds, our bodies, emotional intelligence, and bringing all of that together to really benefit our families, our communities and our work environments,” says Ellison-Taylor. “Bring not only your female colleagues, but your male colleagues as well.”
These steps represent just a few of the many ways to help advance and empower women in the workplace. By establishing clear and decisive steps that allow female employees to reach their potential, you’ll soon find that your company will be better and stronger.