Recommendations for the Upward Mobility of Women: What Do CPAs Think?

Article excerpt

The AICPA has been addressing the issue of women's upward mobility since 1984. Brief historical developments are summarized in Table 1. One important development is the report of the AICPA Upward Mobility of Women Special Committee. The report identified seven obstacles to women's upward mobility (Table 2) and made 23 recommendations for overcoming these obstacles (Table 3). (Table 3 omitted)

The AICPA's initial reaction to the special committee report was somewhat passive. After publishing the committee's recommendations, it made the special committee a standing committee, charged with monitoring the issue of women's upward mobility. In 1992, the Committee issued a report of its monitoring activities and went a step further to announce projects being undertaken to advance the upward mobility of women and family issues. Later that year, the AICPA established a new Executive Committee for Women and Family Issues.

Statistics and studies continue to show, however, relatively slow progress in the advancement of women into senior positions in the accounting profession. In 1989, just 4.1% of the partners in the nation's largest accounting firms were women. Figures for 1992 show that amount rising to 4.9%. Is this lack of progress representative of the attitudes of AICPA members?

A survey reveals that, while they strongly support a few of the special committee's recommendations, AICPA members are generally neutral towards the recommendations. Different levels of support, however, are noted among AICPA members depending on gender and organizational level. Some members take significantly stronger positions on the recommendations than others. This information can be useful for those developing strategies to promote women CPAs and sheds light on the likely pace of women's upward mobility in public accounting.

WOMEN IN THE ACCOUNTING PROFESSION

While women have been entering public accounting in substantial numbers over the last 20 years, they still have more difficulty than men in being promoted in CPA firms. The 1993 edition of The Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits indicates that for the 1991-1992 academic year, women made up 52% of all accounting graduates and 46% of all public accounting recruits. The percent of recruits represented by women was down from 51% and 59%, respectively, for 1991 and 1990. As noted earlier, women in 1992 made up only 4.9% of the partners in the nation's largest accounting firms.

While promotion to partner is especially difficult for women CPAs, obstacles to upward mobility exist for women at all levels in public accounting firms. A study by the American Woman's Society of CPAs found that 40% of women CPAs have been in the profession for more than 10 years, but only 20% of all management positions in CPA firms are held by women. This relatively low number of women managers is not unique to the accounting profession. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Labor, in A Report on the Glass Ceiling Initiative, provided evidence that obstacles to the upward mobility of women exist at middle and lower management levels in most U.S. businesses.

Many researchers have provided comparable evidence. In 1989, Ceil Moran Pillsbury, Liza Capozzoli, and Amy Ciampa reviewed the research on women in public accounting and reported the following:

* Women are not promoted to the highest positions in public accounting firms at the same rate as their male counterparts.

* Women leave public accounting at a higher rate than men.

* Female public accountants are as prepared and as committed to their careers as men.

* Men and women leave public accounting for the same reasons: better opportunities, restricted achievement potential, and long hours.

* Discrimination towards women exists as evidenced by lack of prestigious and developmental assignments and acceptance by clients and superiors, unequal pay, not being taken seriously, and sexual harassment. …