Why women still leave accounting


For “Women’s History Month,” it is important to honor the women who broke the mold in the accounting industry as well as those still paving the way today.

In 1940, less than 1% of CPAs were women. Today, more than half of the accounting school graduates are women, yet only a fraction of them make up partner positions at major firms. In honor of women’s history month, looking back at women in the history of the accounting profession is an important step to honoring our history and building our future.

The first female CPA was Christine Ross, passing her CPA exam in New York state in 1896. She was known for catering to wealthy women working in fashion in New York.

Ellen Eastman worked her way up from a clerk position at a lumber yard in Maine and earned her CPA designation in 1918. She later became the first woman to start a CPA from in New England.

Mary T. Washington was the first African-American woman to earn her CPA designation and in addition to founding her own firm in 1939 she went on to train an entire generation of African-American accountants behind her.

Today, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) honors the most powerful women in accounting each year. You can see the class list for 2022 here. According to awards requirements, these women are a driving force, help create a culture of excellence, empower organizations, are mentors, sponsors, and role models.

While we honor the women in the field who have undoubtedly had an impact, it also is important to look to the future of women in the profession. Why are less than 20% of partners at major firms women? Many of us still jump to the conclusion that it is due to family obligations, but a closer look may reveal more factors than that.

For “Women’s History Month,” it is important to honor the women who broke the mold in the accounting industry as well as those still paving the way today.

Diversity and inclusion efforts have helped to widen the road, but keeping top performing female employees in the firm, and raising them to the next level is more complex than simply touting a flexible schedule. Women focused amenities like longer paid maternity leave, access to daycare services or fitness facilities and even insurance coverage considerations can make the difference for future female leaders in the decision to stay or leave a practice.

Making a partner isn’t just about technically sound work either. That level is the entrepreneurship piece of the puzzle when all of the sudden client and staff management workload gets an added bonus of now needing to bring in clients as well. Even with a flexible schedule, adding in evenings of networking and client social engagements is sure to tax anyone’s time management.

With a huge percentage of accountants getting set to retire in the coming years, and 51% of accounting graduates being female, firms have to start taking a harder look now at how they hang on to their top performing women in order to build a sustainable future.

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