Explores the factors contributing to fewer working mothers in public accounting since 2020 and the actions firms can take to help reverse the decline.
by Kim Brown, CPA Sep 28, 2022, 09:15 AM
Have you ever heard the phrase, “People expect women to work as if they don’t have kids, and raise kids as if they don’t work?” I cringe every time I read this
because it is true.
I am a mother to three young children (ages 5, 3, and 1) and a full-time CPA and auditor at a large national public accounting firm. I love being a mother and a career woman, but I always feel as if I must sacrifice something, either with my family or my career. I know I speak for a lot of working mothers. We constantly juggle between two worlds, trying to find a happy medium. The COVID-19 pandemic only made the demands on our time worse, and an alarming rate of women have voluntarily left public accounting to be stay-at-home mothers to better provide for their families’ needs.
A Pew Research Center survey from fall 2020 found that between the two spouses, wives/mothers did more juggling between childcare and work when compared with the other spouse. Closed day care and home-schooling became a nightmare for mothers with children younger than 12. Coupled with the stress of work deadlines, burnout ensued and many mothers opted to leave the workforce. Now that schools and day cares are for the most part reopened, mothers have been hesitant to reenter the workforce, mostly due to sparse and expensive childcare, mental health issues, and inequitable compensation. To attract and keep working mothers, new approaches to childcare benefits, mental health support, and real pay fairness are three areas where our profession can make a difference.
The cost of childcare increased by over 40% post-pandemic by some estimates, with families often spending up to 20% of their salaries on childcare. To preclude mothers from leaving public accounting or to get them back into the workforce, firms may soon
have to consider providing childcare benefits.
One firm that is leading the way is WithumSmith+Brown PC. As of January 2022, the firm is providing an up to 25% childcare reimbursement to employees. “With our goal of helping our team members financially, as well as retaining our most important asset – our talent – we hope many of our team members who are working parents take advantage of this new policy,” explains Theresa Richardson, chief talent officer at Withum. Public accounting is a competitive environment, and other firms may soon follow Withum’s lead to help alleviate the financial struggles of working mothers.
In the past, mental health awareness and public accounting haven’t exactly gone hand in hand. Throw in the impact of a years-long global pandemic, and many mothers have entered a mental health crisis. Mental and emotional health is as important
as one’s physical wellbeing. A profession that once boasted of 100-hour work weeks and not seeing one’s family during busy season is changing to support staff via mental health days. More can be done, though. Larger firms may want to consider
having a mental health counselor on board and accessible to all. Therapy is not a sign of the weak; it is the need of the hour. Firms should try to foster an environment where it is OK for professionals to need a break, to be vulnerable, and to seek
help without being judged.
A 2018 report by the American Association of University Women revealed that women accountants and auditors made 78 cents to the dollar when compared to men. Additionally, although women asked for raises and bonuses as often as men, they were less likely
to receive them. This is a disgrace. I am one of those people who suffered personally at a previous employer, and this only made me want to strive harder for working mothers. The time for a paradigm shift has arrived.
Firms should overhaul their employee policies and institute comprehensive compensation studies to better handle gender pay inequality. Industry benchmarks and data to support pay structure and ensure fairness should be in place. Transparency in firm decisions needs to begin. Sharing pay brackets with employees and having open discussions will spark the necessary motivation among employees to rise above and outperform.
As for what working mothers can do on their own accord, I would advise don’t be afraid to ask for help. I would be lying if I said I was doing it all on my own. The truth is, I overcame the idea of “I need to do everything or this family is going to fail” and have learned to ask my family and husband for help. Now, we share the load and responsibilities. We are a team, and we succeed together!