Family issues to shape the profession's future. (accounting profession)(includes related articles) (Cover Story)by D'Angelo, Danielle
In recent years, nearly 50% of recruits entering the profession have been women. This year 12 to 18% of the new partners at some of the largest CPA firms are women.
Is it time for the profession, its societies, and individual firms and companies to examine the reasons for this disparity? And what about the lifestyle issues that face today's dual professional family?
In the past few years, work and family issues have become more heightened concerns for American businesses as companies find an increasing number of women and dual-career families in the work force. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 1993 both spouses work in 57.9% of all married couples with children under age 18, compared to only 36.2% less than 20 years ago.
To deal with these changing demographics, companies need to realize that younger employees, regardless of gender, care more about balancing private and professional lifestyles than do older generations. With the Family Medical Leave Act and a significant focus on child care in the health-care reform debate, more personal family issues, previously thought of lesser importance and solely women's concerns, have now moved into the mainstream business community.
The accounting profession is no exception. The AICPA and other professional societies and national and local accounting firms have joined corporate America and developed initiatives to help employers and employees address these issues. The movement embraces more than the traditional advancement issues for women.
Firms and companies have begun to recognize that workplace issues affect everyone. To retain talented individuals and encourage them to succeed, employers have to be more cognizant of employees' lifestyles.
Workplace concerns such as flexible schedules and child care are now more important. Throughout the profession, numerous task forces, commissions, and committees address these and other benefits.
What do these studies mean to the CPA? Is there really a change in attitude toward family issues and the upward mobility of women? Will the profession increase its retention of women, particularly important in light of the rising number of female accounting graduates?
Women Graduates and Recruits Increase
The accounting profession's recent attention to the upward mobility of women and family issues is a realization that women have made up at least 50% of college accounting graduates for several years. According to the 1993 edition of the AICPA's annual Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, 46% of new hires in 1992 in public accounting were women; 51% were women in 1991; and 59% in 1990. While the 5% drop-off in 1992 requires closer study, the AICPA attributes some of the shift to a change in the sampling that, for the first time, includes sole practitioners.
Even with impressive entry-level numbers, the accounting profession needs to more effectively address retention issues to better prepare for the changing work force. A 1992 survey by Public Accounting Report found only 4.9% of partners in the top 16 national accounting firms were women, and less than 20% of top managerial positions were women according to 1992 figures compiled by the American Woman's Society of CPAs (AWSCPA).
The Attitude Problem
Resistance to change remains. Almost 40% of the managing partner respondents in a 1993 survey conducted by the New York State Society of CPAs' (NYSSCPA) Advancement of Women in the Accounting Profession Committee, felt firms should not change to accommodate and retain women CPAs. Comments included:
* "Women are incapable of coping with the profession's demands and stress."
* "The majority of clients prefer men servicing their accounts."
* "Women are less likely to stand pressure in the high season."
These attitudes cannot prevail if firms want to maintain talent. Women would not be entering the profession in such high numbers if they did not view it as challenging and offering opportunities. If almost half the graduates and new recruits are women, it would only be appropriate for the percentage advancing to partnership and senior positions reflect the profession's changing demographics.
The NYSSCPA also surveyed 792 female CPAs from a cross-section of the profession in regard to age group, position, and employment background. Seventy-eight percent felt that firms must change to accommodate and retain women CPAs, and 63% agreed that in their personal experience, few women have advanced to top management levels.
Big Firm/Small Firm--Public Accounting/Industry
Women often perceive that it is too difficult to maintain a balance of work and family in public accounting. Whether this is true depends more on the individual. Some women feel larger firms offer more opportunities because they have more structured human resources programs. Others feel smaller firms provide more of an understanding and flexibility on personal issues, regardless of gender.
Though little data exist on how many female CPAs leave public accounting for industry because of family obligations as opposed to career development and salary increases, it is clear that many women feel that industry often provides greater flexibility.
Family issues and career flexibility is important to both men and women. According to the AICPA's "MAP Committee Survey on Professional Staff," 89% of respondents said that a career in industry is very or somewhat compatible if they became a parent (or have another child if already a parent). The 1990 survey questioned 4,800 CPAs in public accounting; 75% of the respondents were male.
Mary Carpenter, financial reporting supervisor for Johnson & Johnson, readily admits she has stayed in her current job because of the flexibility it provides. Carpenter is a single mother and has a six-year old disabled son. Johnson & Johnson's family and work policy includes a wide array of benefits such as flex-time, child care, and telecommuting (working at home via computer and modem), and Carpenter takes advantage of some of these programs.
Programs like these, as well as comprehensive diversity training, have helped Johnson & Johnson make the "Best Companies for Working Mothers" list, published by Working Mother magazine, for the past eight years. Yet the presence of these benefits does not always mean advancement opportunities are readily available for women.
"I have been in the same position for six years," says Carpenter. "As a working mother, right now flexibility is more important to me than professional fulfillment." Carpenter stresses that times are changing and points to diversity training as a positive step. Her department has just completed the program and while it is too soon to notice specific changes, she feels there is a shift in attitudes, particularly among younger men.
Johnson & Johnson is one of the many companies nationwide that realize the importance of family and workplace issues for both genders. Seventy-nine percent of the fathers who take advantage of on-site child care state the benefit is a primary reason for remaining at the company.
The AICPA MAP survey echoes the importance of family issues to both genders. Seventy-five percent of the respondents felt that time for personal life and parenting would become more important should they become a parent (or have another child if already a parent).
The accounting profession at large must realize what industry has begun to notice in recent years: commitment to family issues can improve the bottom line. According to Working Mother magazine, Aetna Life & Casualty, for example, estimates that its work/family programs save the company at least $2 million in turnover costs.
Glass Ceiling Has a Few Cracks
The fact that women and family issues are now openly discussed is proof in a sense how far women have come in the profession. A 1993 survey by AWSCPA and the American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA) shows the average female CPA is better off than her 1977 counterpart; she is better paid, better educated, and exposed to more career opportunities.
The survey also points out that women have made some progress in reaching upper management, albeit they are still in the minority. Twenty-five percent of respondents were partners, compared to 15% in 1988 and 4% in 1977.
The nation's largest accounting firms are all slowly making changes. Deloitte & Touche has embarked on perhaps the most publicized campaign to increase the number of women in its partner ranks. The firm formed a senior-level Council on the Advancement of Women, plans over 200 workshops nationwide, and by 1994 predicts over 5,000 employees will have attended training in diversity issues. The program kicked off with a two-day "Men and Women as Colleagues" training session for professional staff from managers to partners. The firm plans additional follow-up sessions and is developing modules for other employees. KPMG Peat Marwick recently announced a management committee decision to offer all full-time partners and employees flexible work schedules, as well as the option to work at home.
The percentage of new partnerships offered to Deloitte & Touche female CPAs rose to 18% in 1993, up from 13% the previous year. Other firms mark similar increases in the share of new partnerships given to women: KPMG Peat Marwick rose to 16% and Arthur Andersen rose to 12%, from 10% and 8%, respectively, in 1992. Women partners and other senior- level CPAs point to these inroads to stress that the glass ceiling today is not shatter-proof.
While most female CPAs recognize differences in the way women and men interact with clients and colleagues, they often stress that it is up to each person to make the best of his or her situation. Successful women in senior positions warn about placing too much blame on the perennial "old boys network," and stress women can succeed if they persevere.
"If you admit the glass ceiling exists, it holds you back," said Lynn Lagomarsino, CPA, partner at Herman, Yula, Schwartz and Lagomarsino, a CPA firm in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Jo Marie Dancik, CPA, who at age 37 is regional managing partner of Ernst & Young's Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Tucson offices, echoes Lagomarsino. Dancik points to her own career as an example of how women can and should make the most of their own situations.
Dancik joined Ernst & Young after graduating college in 1978. Though she always had a strong interest in consulting, she began as an auditor in the Cleveland office before transferring to consulting four years later. She credits several mentors, all men, as helping her achieve her goals.
"Don't be shy about requesting a particular career direction and in letting partners know what your interests are," recommends Dancik. "If you encounter an individual who won't move you up, consider a lateral move, but don't give up."
Dancik cites her own abilities to work hard and learn from others as reasons for her success. Her most strategic career move was a lateral one, a transfer to the firm's Denver office that offered more opportunities in consulting. She was promoted to partner-in-charge of consulting in 1988, and to managing partner of the office in 1991 before becoming regional managing partner in 1993.
Success Sometimes Yields Denial
Once women achieve partner or senior industry positions, they sometimes downplay that gender differences or specific obstacles existed, perhaps as a survival tactic to maintain their success.
"If a glass ceiling exists, it's often self-induced," said Diane Brogan, CPA, comptroller for TeleWest International, a telecommunications company in Denver, Colorado. Brogan began in the accounting profession in 1974 as an IRS agent, which at the time was a position traditionally held by men. She felt she often had to work harder and do a better job than her male colleagues to get noticed. Brogan stresses she succeeded and did not bump into a glass ceiling in her career because she refused to accept personal limitations.
"If you encounter obstacles and don't do anything about it, you allow yourself to be victimized." She advises women "to be proactive and get out of a bad situation."
Brogan did not achieve her professional success without personal sacrifice. At age 40, she is happily married, but has consciously chosen not to have children. While she knows women who have managed both, she does not think she personally could do both jobs well and has instead focused on her career.
"It's about getting there and getting considered," said an industry respondent in the NYSSCPA survey. "After obtaining a high-level job, there doesn't seem to be any issues."
Women in public accounting are no different. Ernst & Young's Dancik feels the gender bias issue is fast fading and that she never faced a glass ceiling in striving toward regional managing partner. Lynn Lagomarsino, the New Jersey partner of a local firm, says that in retrospect, the feeling that she was being "tested" and had to prove herself as a young CPA was because she was just out of school, not because she was a woman. Interestingly, Dancik feels the glass ceiling exists more for women at smaller CPA firms while Lagomarsino stresses that barriers occur more at larger firms.
Less Talk, More Action Needed
Helping keep women in the profession makes good economic sense. Moreover, issues such as flexible work schedules and child care are now more of a concern to all college graduates, regardless of gender. Growing reports from the front line of "Generation X," twenty-something employees, state these individuals are more concerned with lifestyle issues than any other age group.
Yet it is not only the younger generation that cares about family issues. Thirty- and forty-somethings who may have put off children until their careers were more secure, now are looking for more balance in their personal and professional lives. When comparing views on when they entered public accounting to their views now, 66% of CPAs who responded to the AICPA MAP survey said time for personal life is very important, compared to only 25% who said they felt this way when they began their careers in public accounting. Respondents had a median age of 34; only 29% were 30 and under, and 18% were over 45.
Dual career families are now the norm, and balancing work and family demands confront both genders. College graduates today expect flexibility, and only those employers ready to meet these new demands will retain talented staff. Mirroring corporate America, women and men throughout the accounting profession join thousands of others across the country in embracing an emphasis on family and lifestyle as issues important to both genders.
In the NYSSCPA survey, conflicting results appear when comparing awareness of the issue and beliefs on how firms must change. In the survey of 1,002 managing partners, more than half the respondents felt some sort of change is necessary to prepare the profession for the changing work force; 32% specifically cited flexible schedules. Yet many managing partners, even some who suggested flexible schedules, stated flexible hours cannot work efficiently in the accounting profession due to the cyclical nature of the business.
Flexible Schedules Possible and Needed
Perhaps one of the reasons "flex-time" or "alternative work arrangements" have emerged now as a suggestion to retain women CPAs is that firms have begun to realize the cost of training new employees is far more expensive than adjusting a current employee's hours.
According to an August 1993 article in Parents magazine, "every time a business loses an experienced woman and trains someone new, it loses time and money--up to 150% of a year's salary at the managerial level." With the cost of recruiting and retraining combined with the added expense of the interruption in productivity, retaining existing staff is in the company's best interest.
As family issues continue to cross genders, business decisions will force the accounting profession to respond. In 1993, the Families and Work Institute conducted a detailed telephone survey of a national sample of 2,958 workers of both sexes and diverse employment backgrounds. The survey found that 87% of respondents stated they have some day-to-day family responsibility at home.
Almost 25% of the employees without flexible work schedules or work-at- home policies said they would switch employers for these opportunities. Forty-seven percent of those without the right to take time off for sick family members said they would accept a salary or benefit reduction to get it.
Public accounting firms need to view part-time work schedules as possible if both employee and employer are committed to making the arrangement work. In fact, according to many women CPAs interviewed, flexibility in work schedules has existed for women for years.
For example, some accounting firms deal with the busy season dilemma by viewing alternative work arrangements on an annual as opposed to weekly schedule. While CPAs work additional hours during tax season, they have more flexible schedules the remainder of the year.
The number of CPA firms that allow staff to work seasonal schedules or compressed schedules (completing a week's work in less than five days) continues to grow as firms begin to realize the economic benefit of retaining staff. Other finns now offer such helpful services such as on- site child care for weekend employees during busy season, emergency child care, and telecommuting.
"Firms are often afraid to be known as companies that promote flexible work schedules because of the profession's deep tradition in tax season's seven-day, 60-hour work weeks," said one CPA. "My firm has a number of women in senior positions who have arranged part-time hours, but it never promoted this visibly within the firm."
Such benefits help keep employees of both genders more productive. With two career couples a reality today, both men and women face difficulties in meeting the profession's high demands. Workload compression affects all CPAs, and firms slowly have begun to take notice.
Childbirth Does Not Reduce Commitment
Juggling work and family issues in the accounting profession is difficult, particularly because of the cyclical nature of the business, but many women CPAs can balance personal lives and succeed professionally while raising a family.
Other women claim they face greater obstacles after having children and are often treated differently from male colleagues. This view occurred throughout the comments of the female CPAs in the NYSSCPA survey. Typical responses include--
* "All three women promoted in our firm had less experience than me but had no children; I have two."
* "The only woman partner is single with no children, yet all the male partners are married and most have kids."
* "I've survived because I don't seem overwhelmed by family responsibilities."
Though there are many examples of successful women who have effectively juggled work and family demands, much of upper management still views women as less committed to a company or firm than their male counterparts due to maternity leave.
Yet contrary to the belief that women abandon the profession following childbirth, the AWSCPA/ASWA survey notes that 61% of the respondents state they never interrupted their career due to family responsibilities. In the AICPA MAP survey, 79% of the respondents would prefer to work full-time after having a child; 78% would return to public accounting, 17% would move to industry. For business in general, three out of four women return to the work force after childbirth, according to the National Commission on Working Women.
Need for Support
Most women who succeed at the balancing act stress the importance of a supportive family environment. Lynn Lagomarsino, the CPA from Parsippany, New Jersey, points out that her husband's career as a teacher makes it easier for her to commit long hours to her job.
"We have a flexible family life since my husband takes care of the children much of the time," she says. "I could not be a partner without his full support of my career goals."
All the women interviewed also stress the importance of networking through professional associations. They cite both women's organizations and non-gender biased groups as important to success.
The Profession Responds
The NYSSCPA survey, however, pointed out that women do not always view state societies as sensitive to upward mobility issues. State societies have now joined the profession as a whole in making inroads in improving women's advancement. Eighteen states now have committees that address women and workplace issues.
The AICPA noticed one of the first small signs of profession-wide awareness in 1992, when it contacted CPA firms and companies employing CPAs about specific programs developed to address family issues. While many of the firms interviewed did not always have concrete programs in place, most had recently or were in the process of updating their human resource manuals to address the issues.
Through its Women's and Family Issues Executive Committee (WFIEC) formed in 1992, the AICPA developed a national clearinghouse for these concerns. The committee also conducts ongoing surveys of women and workplace issues, and next month it will release relevant findings of a comprehensive survey on managing partners' views. The executive status of this committee demonstrates the high priority of the issues to the AICPA leadership, and Chairman Dominic Tarentino listed women and workplace issues among his strategic thrusts upon taking office.
In June 1994, WFIEC will co-host its first national conference on women and family issues with the NYSSCPA and Catalyst, a national consulting and research firm on women's leadership and career development issues. Geared to managing partners, human resource executives and both male and female CPAs, the event will bring together leaders in the profession to offer advice and solutions for both employers and individuals. The AICPA hopes this pilot conference in New York City will serve as the model for other regional events nationwide.
Other state societies have held events that focus on related human resources issues of concern to both female and male CPAs such as "Managing Your Most Important Asset: People" (Arizona), "Networking and Building Resources" (New York)," and "Communication Differences Between Men and Women" (Maryland).
Women also continue to rise to visible leadership roles. Brogan, for example, is the Colorado Society's first woman president and Colorado joins California, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Wyoming that have elected women presidents or president-elects in the past year.
A Commitment is Required
The accounting profession still has a long way to go to improve the number of women in senior positions. Professional associations and CPA firms and other employers must take care to insure all the recent discussion of women and workplace issues translates into successful action.
Balancing work and family issues requires commitment and open communication between employer and employee to finding solutions. More flexible arrangements such as telecommuting or compressed schedules can increase productivity of both men and women CPAs and better retain employee loyalty.
Increasing the number of women who advance will help keep the high percentages of women accounting graduates and recruits, and in the long term, improve the future of the profession.
NEW CONFERENCE ADDRESSES GENDER AND FAMILY ISSUES
Next month marks the first time high-level speakers will gather at a national conference to openly discuss women, work and family issues in the accounting profession. While events on similar topics have existed on a smaller scale, this new full-day conference will include presentations by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, Deloitte & Touche's Chairman and CEO Michael J. Cook, TIAA-CREF's Chairman and CEO John Biggs, Corning Inc's Vice-Chairman Van C. Campbell, and other senior professionals from public accounting and industry.
Sponsored by the AICPA, the NYSSCPA, and Catalyst, a research and consulting organization on women's leadership development, the conference, "Achieving a Balance in the Accounting Workplace: Gender, Upward Mobility, Work and Family," will take place June 13th at the Sheraton New York Hotel in New York City. Plenary sessions and breakout workshops will address such topics as "Leading Organizational Change," "Alternative Work Arrangements," "Practice Development," "Gender Dynamics in the Workplace," "Building the Business Case for Work/Family Initiatives," "Mentoring and Networking," and "What Women Can Do to Engineer their Own Upward Mobility."
Participants will learn what they can do to help both their firms or companies and themselves better address the balance of women, work, and family issues. Speakers from industry and public accounting along with organizational development consultants, human resources executives, and gender specialists will highlight success stories and offer other helpful advice for accounting firms, companies, and individuals. The conference is $195 and includes registration, course materials and lunch. Attendance is limited so reserve soon. Contact the AICPA's Meetings and Travel Division, Harborside Financial Center, 210 Plaza Three, Jersey City NJ 07311-3811, (201) 938-3232.
COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Most of the women interviewed agree there is a difference in the way female and male CPAs communicate and this impacts the way each gender interacts with clients and colleagues.
Studies on management communication cite women address problems with more creativity than men and are more often likely to consult others in deriving a solution. Since creative problem solving is the hallmark of the accounting profession, women are positioned to take advantage of these skills to succeed.
"Women are more communicative. If there's an issue, women discuss and resolve it. And this is a big asset in an environment where effective communication skills are so critical," said Mary Molloy, CPA, vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City.
Other comments in the NYSSCPA survey point out how women's communication style opens opportunities in the profession. Women are consensus- builders and this team-spirited approach can have additional benefits in improving client relations. By getting the client to buy into the CPA's point of view early, client satisfaction can increase in the long run.
Most women have the personality needed to serve the public. This is an important skill since on the whole we spend more time explaining why things are to our clients," said one respondent.
While many women admit there are gender communication differences, some of the CPAs interviewed focus on individual personalities as the main qualifications in determining office interactions and mobility."
"Professionally, I adapt my style to the person I'm communicating with," says Ernst & Young's Dancik. "I feel this is a particularly important strategy for women." While she admits there are greater challenges for female CPAS because many older men are still uncomfortable working with women, Dancik is quick to stress that women must seek out opportunities and not be discouraged by perceived glass ceilings. She views that the three most important qualities to succeed-- positive attitude, perseverance, and teamwork--as the same for all CPAs regardless of gender.
Leslie Coolidge, CPA, is a senior manager at KPMG Peat Marwick in New York and a member of the NYSSCPA Advancement of Women in the Accounting Profession Committee.
Danielle D'Angelo is manager, public relations of the NYSSCPA. Other members of the NYSSCPA Advancement of Women Committee contributed to the article.
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