The woman CPA: career and family.by Stockard, Jane B.
The increasing number of women entering the field of accounting over the past two decades has raised issues that merit serious consideration. The apparent conflict between family life and an accounting career appears to be negatively impacting the retention of women in public accounting. Professional organizations have recognized that a steady flow of women into the profession is necessary in order to meet their personnel needs. While many of the issues involved have been ably addressed, much remains to be done about providing solutions to key issues that compel many women to leave the field.
Typically, accounting entails long hours, travel, and a stressful business environment. For many women, these negative factors are intensified by family obligations and the pressures of striving for acceptance in a traditionally male-dominated profession. Many choose to seek vocational alternatives which are more favorable to their personal needs, including opening their own businesses, seeking jobs in industry or government, and pursuing other disciplines. This exodus is at the expense of accounting firms that are expending resources to train women and move them along a career path. For the long-run success of both women CPAs and the profession, accounting firms must give further consideration to "women's issues" in order to retain these valuable and productive employees.
Several studies have examined the topic of women in accounting. However, these studies have rarely dealt with the professional woman's attitudes regarding work and family-related issues. Past research concentrated on the higher echelons of practice (i.e., partners and seniors) and on recruiting practices rather than the entire spectrum of issues.
Many studies have also included data developed from both men and women and a comparison of the responses. However, a thorough analysis of the particular issues as experienced by women accountants should be made prior to correlating them with the perceptions of men on these same issues.
The authors obtained data concerning the professional woman CPA's perceptions of the effects of working on fundamental family issues. The data were analyzed and recommendations made to firms and professional organizations where problems were identified. The survey was conducted with the approval of the American Women's Society of CPAs, and a roster of members was obtained from the organization. See Table 1 for a summary of survey results.
The survey gathered basic demographic information including age, education, salary, marital and family status, and employment. Several questions were designed to allow the respondent to assess the impact of her job situation on her own marriage and children. Attitudinal questions required respondents to indicate their perception of the effect of their career on various personal issues.
EMPLOYMENT AND MARRIAGE
About one-third of the respondents indicated that their career has had some adverse effect on either their marriage or on the opportunity to marry. Twenty-eight percent of those who are single indicated that employment was at least part of the reason why they were not married. Thirty-five percent of Chose separated or divorced cited employment as at least part of the reason for the separation or divorce. Of those currently married thirty-six percent indicated that the job has adversely affected the marriage in some manner.
The respondents who indicated that employment created problems with marriage or lack of marriage were asked to respond to a list of possible reasons on a seven-point scale with a 1 indicating no adverse effect and a 7 indicating a strong adverse effect. A mean of four indicates an average or a neutral position.
The survey confirmed a finding in previous surveys that travel is not generally perceived as a problem: only a few respondents indicated any significant problems due to business travel.
Unlike travel, overtime was seen as affecting either the marriage or marital status. Overtime is perceived to most strongly affect those currently married.
Other reasons reported as having adverse effects on marriages varied with the type of respondent. Single women indicated a more adverse position for all items listed except travel. The highest adverse About one-third of the respondents indicated that their career has bad some adverse effect on either their marriage or on the opportunity to marry. effect cited by single women was that accounting employment made it difficult to meet men in social situations. Of those divorced or separated, the reasons "position intimidated spouse" and "stress from a two-career household" were highly significant. The largest number of separated or divorced respondents gave "position intimidated spouse" the highest value for significant influence. There was no attempt made to measure whether the intimidation factor came from salaries or the professional position itself However, several respondents mentioned that the ability to support themselves with accounting employment made their divorce possible. Others mentioned that a lack of time created marital problems, and several mentioned simply that marriage and a family preclude professional employment.
CHILDREN AND EMPLOYMENT
Children are yet another consideration in balancing the demands of job and family. About half of those surveyed had primary responsibility for one or more children, or plan to have children in the future. Of those who currently had primary responsibility for children, about one third felt that having children had a negative effect on their employment opportunities. They felt strongly that the responsibility of children significantly affected their job flexibility and somewhat limited opportunities for promotions. The responsibility of children was not considered to have negatively affected raises.
Of those who stated that they did not have children, most felt that having children would adversely affect employment opportunities in some way. (See Table 6) Both women who did not have children and women who have primary responsibility for children are convinced that children hurt job flexibility and possibilities for promotion.
Interesting answers came from respondents who do not have children and do not plan to have children. Several indicated that job considerations had influenced the decision not to have children. Travel was not a significant factor, but job stress, overtime, the existence of a two- career household, and career being the primary goal were all given as factors in this decision.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CHANGE
Women are a significant part of the labor force in accounting and are expected to increase in numbers and attain senior positions in the coming years. If women are to continue to enter and remain in the profession, then the problems faced by women CPAs involving marriage and family must be addressed. When 33% of women accounting professionals indicate that accounting employment adversely affects their marriage or marital status, the significance of this issue is obvious.
What Can Employers Do?
Many of the items cited as reasons for the adverse effect of accounting employment on marriage cannot be influenced or changed by the employer. Fortunately, some of them can. Overtime, mentioned by all groups as an adverse influence, has been addressed by some accounting firms attempting to reduce excessive overtime hours required during peak periods. Possible actions include additional staff, part-time employees, and convincing clients to change year-end closing dates.
Job stress, another frequently cited point of influence on marriage, may be reduced, if not removed, by the employer. in many cases, the sources of job stress many be difficult for the employer to identify. Other professions have addressed this issue on an individual level by providing individual counseling. Techniques such as job stress awareness seminars, seminars on minimizing the effects of stress, and on-site exercise/relaxation classes during the workday have proven to be beneficial.
Stress from a two-career household can be reduced by employers offering more flex-time opportunities, as well as being more understanding when employees request time off to handle family-related problems. Also, counseling on how to handle marriage and a career may enable employees to minimize stress.
What About Children?
Perhaps the most disturbing statistic obtained was the perceived effect of children on employment. It is understandable that children would affect a woman's job flexibility in terms of willingness to move to a new location. Furthermore, both women with and without children perceived this reduced flexibility as inhibiting career opportunities. Of more significance is that both categories of women perceived that having children reduced a woman's opportunity for promotion. One respondent indicated that she was passed over for a job promotion because she was a mother. Regardless of whether this is a perception or a reality, it deserves attention by employers. A feeling of discrimination against women with children can only lead to employee dissatisfaction and discontent.
Employers should give assurance that discrimination does not exist and remove the perception among female employees that children may be used as a criterion in considering promotions. Employers can publish promotion criteria and be willing to discuss the grievances of an employee who feels unfairly treated. Employers should encourage women to voice their opinions. Employees should also be encouraged to carry their grievances to a higher management level when not satisfied with the answers received.
Accounting employers must consider the needs and problems of women professionals in the work force. Alleviating key problems should help employers acquire and retain women employees for a longer time, thereby maximizing their hiring and training investment. More importantly, dealing with these issues would help intelligent, capable women continue a career as a professional CPA.
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