This post was originally written for and featured on the Ohio Society of CPAs blog. We partnered with them for several months to outline some of the most important issues for women in accounting.
We know that women are underrepresented in leadership across the board in this country. In the 2018 Women in the Workplace study our suspicions were confirmed when we learned that across industries progress toward gender equity in leadership has stalled nationwide. The chart below shows that women make up only 22% of the “C-Suite” level positions in this country, with women of color drastically less represented than that at only 4%.
Where do these numbers stack up in accounting? In exploring the most recent research (2015) available on representation of women in accounting leadership from the AICPA we can see the the numbers mirror those across industries closely with women making up 24% of CPA firm partnership, despite making up at least half of the entry level workforce in the field for quite some time.
But why does this matter, and how much? While the exact answer is difficult to capture due to its reliance on individual perceptions and the reporting of those perceptions, we are confident that the impact of this underrepresentation is further reaching than any data would show.
Gild Collective has had the opportunity to work with several diverse facets of the accounting industry: professional associations throughout the country, mid-size regional firms, small local firms, and large nationwide firms. We have lead leadership workshops for women, gender inclusion workshops open to all employees, and gender inclusion trainings specific to firm leadership. We have worked with firms whose women’s employee resource initiatives had been established for 20+ years, and helped firms in their founding days of such initiatives.
Through this work, we have identified two key themes that encompass why representation matters.
If you can see it, you can be it.
When we someone who looks like us or has a similar story to ours in leadership, it is easier to believe that we too can progress to these levels. On the contrary, when we see women being passed over for the corner office again and again, we become disheartened with our organizations, believing that we will have a better shot at progression elsewhere. In our conversations with female accountants, we know that many have been encouraged to pursue flexible work arrangements after expanding their families. However, as one of these women so eloquently put it, “It wasn’t until I began my flexible work arrangement and wanted to progress that I realized I had effectively hopped off the train to advancement. I started looking around and realized that no man had ever been encouraged to take this track, and that no one woman who had ever progressed to leadership. I felt like I had been tricked, and I knew my future here was over.”
If you don’t have a seat at the table, your voice is not represented at the table.
One of our main goals when presenting gender inclusion trainings to leadership within firms is to use data to paint the picture of what being a woman in their organization might feel like. In doing this, we learn that almost all of the men are surprised to learn that the women they lead perceive structural and cultural barriers to progression. In fact, the (almost all male) leadership teams we have worked with have made many assumptions about their female workforces that have gone unchecked due to the lack of representation of women at their level. If women are not offered a seat at the table, their voices will not be heard and these unhealthy assumptions will only continue.
As we work toward gender equity within our organizations, remember this: representation matters. It matters to the minority groups, yes, but it also matters to the majority. Without diverse representation at all levels, teams are unable to perform to their full potential.
I will leave you with a challenge: if you notice that any of the meetings you attend this week lack diverse voices, change that. Invite someone to the meeting that might otherwise not have a seat, or a voice.