The CPA of the future will transcend gender, race, and ethnicity, and bring accounting firms a diversity of thought that broadens the scope of services available for clients.
As such, bolstered by innovative firms and firm leaders, I believe that women today are on the cusp of finding and creating great opportunities for themselves. By approaching their careers strategically, women will fill the leadership roles denied to their predecessors and, in the process, help shape their firms into dynamic workplaces.
But challenges persist. Since March is Women’s History Month, it marks a good time to confront these challenges and devise solutions.
Since the mid-1980s, about half of accounting graduates have been women, but fewer than 15 percent are in executive or management positions, and only 4 percent are CEOs. Clearly, more women are moving out than moving up. This imbalance means that too many firms are missing out on top-notch talent and women may be settling for subordinate careers.
Fortunately, change can happen rapidly. As Kimberly N. Ellison-Taylor, chair of the AICPA, has said, we don’t have to look far into the future to see the talent pool broadening. We can bring about change every day by adopting her philosophy of “Each one, reach one.”
All CPA firms can help create an environment where women can thrive and take leadership roles. I’ve learned a range of lessons along the way that apply to encouraging women to stay in the field and strive for leadership roles:
- Rethink mentoring – Mentors and mentees shouldn’t look and think alike. Mentors should challenge their mentees to fill gaps in their skill sets. Mentees should squarely assess their strengths and weaknesses with an eye on finding a mentor who can address their needs.
- Expand horizons – In the early years of my career, I understood the importance of community involvement. But instead of restricting my choices to my personal passions, the partners chose the causes. The experience taught me that I could go outside my comfort zone and survive. I networked with people I may never have encountered otherwise, learned new skills, and saw different leadership styles in action. All of those factors are essential bricks in the foundation of a fulfilling professional career.
Expect excellence and reinvent – The path to leadership is rarely straight. When I started in the profession, I focused on learning and absorbing everything I could. As I built expertise, our partners and managers realized we had created opportunities to champion new specialties, so we went out and sought that business. I changed my practice focus three times, flourishing under the kinds of professional challenges that keep the best and brightest in the profession.
- Verbalize and listen – Women often believe that the way to achievement is through overqualification and keeping their noses to the grindstone. They fail to recognize that stating their career goals – out loud – lets others see them in their desired positions and help guide them there. On the flip side, it’s up to leadership to hear what they’re saying and craft an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes ideas and provides increasing responsibilities as women climb the career ladder.
Fill the slate with qualified people – In our environment, we build the team and then pick the work. The more inclusive the workplace, the better the ideas that can be crafted into sellable propositions. When everyone on a board or in leadership has a similar mind-set, they are going to attract more of the same. This causes energy to flag and bright ideas to languish. Inclusiveness demands breaking boundaries, cultivating young talent in schools and universities, and welcoming these professionals into the fold when they’re ready to fly.
Today’s CPA is a highly trusted professional, valued for the essential skill of problem-solving. By aligning our skills with the most pressing needs of businesses, now and in the future, we can position the profession as an invaluable partner in addressing all the worries plaguing today’s CEOs.
Ushering women and all other traditionally underrepresented talents into this exciting atmosphere assures that the profession is constantly recharged with vibrancy and fresh perspectives.
Lisa A. Myers, CPA, CFE, CGMA, is principal with Boyer & Ritter LLC in Camp Hill and 2016-2017 PICPA president. She can be reached at email@example.com.