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How Open is the Accounting Field to Women?

Future female accountants may wonder whether women in the accounting field are well-represented versus their male counterparts, but the answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as looking at the number of women accountants versus men. Talk of the public accounting glass ceiling dominates many conversations about female accountants and has many in the industry wondering what the future may bring for women in accounting.

Women in the Workforce Today

According to figures by the United States Census Bureau, female representation in the workforce has increased significantly since 1970. Forty-four years ago, women made up around 38% of the workforce while men made up the remaining 62%. By the time 2010 came around that number rose to just over 47% with the percentage of men shrinking to 52.8%.

Interestingly, however, the primary occupations for men and women haven’t changed a significant amount. In 1970, it was popular for men to be truck drivers and the same held true in 2010. Likewise, in 1970, the most popular profession for women was secretaries, and in 2010, that popularity remained.

Unfortunately, female participation in industries that were once seen as predominantly male have remained short on women workers. Areas like math, engineering, and computer science have seen some gains in female participation, but that growth hasn’t matched the overall gains in employment seen across all industries.

Challenges to Women in Accounting

One of the primary challenges that women face in today’s accounting field is that it’s hard to advance beyond the role of CPA once employed at an accounting firm. There are very few female partners at CPA firms today even though CPA licenses have been granted to women for almost as long as licensing has been available.

Recent research on the demographics of the accounting industry shows that white males make up a dominant percentage of the workforce and that women and minorities aren’t yet at equal footing as far as numbers are concerned. As of 2012, 56% of accounting employees were male, and a full 75% of employees were white.

The disparity regarding partner demographics was also heavily biased toward men. At all firms counted in the American Institute of CPAs survey, 81% of the partners were men while only 19% were women. Promotion of women to the highest levels of responsibility in accounting firms has lagged behind overall female participation in accounting.

Resources for Female Accountants

The interest in promoting female participation in accounting is so strong that several alliances and associations exist whose sole purpose is to promote women in the industry. For example, the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) has been at work since the late 1930s and dedicates its time to accelerating professional advancement of women.

Likewise, the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA) has been in existence since 1966 and says that its mission is to support female participation in accounting by funding education and conducting research. The association provides scholarships for all levels of education from undergraduate to postgraduate study.

However, women in accounting shouldn’t look at the trends regarding career advancement as a block to future success. There are a growing number of female-owned accounting firms that employ large numbers of women accountants and are regarded as excellent firms. The number of women in the accounting field is not yet where it should be, but women in accounting are working incredibly hard to promote gender equality in the field.