Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

More Accountants Are Women, but Few Find Room at the Top

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

More Accountants Are Women, but Few Find Room at the Top

Article excerpt

MORE and more women are joining the ranks of accountants. But the number of women promoted to partner isn't adding up.

Since the mid-1980s, roughly one-half of accounting graduates and entry-level hires at public accounting firms have been women.

Yet last year, only 13 percent of the partners in these firms were women. And in the largest companies, women make up only 5 percent of the partners, according to a study to be released later this month entitled, "The Accounting Profession in Transition."

The issue of women's advancement is not unique to public accounting. And the high attrition rate of women is common in other professions as well.

The most tempting explanation for high turnover is that many women leave to have families, which leaves fewer in the upper ranks to promote. But that's only a small part of what's happening. And with women projected to account for 60 percent of new hires in 2000, public accounting firms see this becoming a serious bottom-line issue.

"The reason that the accounting industry has been awakened to this issue is because ... {firms} suddenly have this large pool of women that they're educating and they're training and they're helping become CPAs, and those women are leaving," says Marcia Kropf, a researcher at Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit research group focusing on women in business.

Take Kimberlee Perras. After more than two years of all-nighters and grinding back-to-back seven-day workweeks at Price Waterhouse LLP, the sixth largest accounting firm, Ms. Perras left to do the same job at Fidelity Management, which ensured a more regular schedule.

"I left purely for the hours involved," she says.

Perras exemplifies just one of the reasons why women quit accounting firms. They leave for more family-friendly environments, for flexible work options in the industrial sector or in other financial service organizations. And some are starting their own practices.

But most are not dropping out of the work force. Of the women who leave to have children, 89 percent return to their firms, according to a 1994 study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in New York, which surveyed 5,300 accounting firms nationwide.

Indeed, the female turnover in accounting firms at lower ranks is only slightly higher than that of males (19 percent for women, 18 percent for men), according to the AICPA study. But by the time employees reach senior management positions - the rank below partner - only 21 percent are female and 79 percent are male.

Meanwhile, the percentage of women being promoted to partner is relatively consistent with the pool of women to select from. Twenty-six percent of partners admitted within the last three years are women, the AICPA study reports.

"To me, that indicates that if you can get through the tough years, in the middle ranks, there's not a glass ceiling at the partnership-admission level," says Karen Hooks, chairwoman of the AICPA's Executive Committee for Women and Family Issues. …

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