From historical trailblazers like Christine Ross and Mary T. Washington to modern-day disruptors like Sharada Bhansali and Cathy Engelbert, women continue to play a vital role in the world of accounting. Moreover, these women have paved the way for others to enter and revolutionize the accounting industry.
Accounting is a stable and rewarding profession, making it an excellent choice for any woman who wants a secure career that provides abundant growth opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 59.7% of all accountants in the United States are female.
However, accounting has a long-standing reputation as an industry dominated by men, despite most accountants being women. This article discusses some of the most common problems women face in the industry and how best to overcome them.
Challenges Women Face in Accounting
Skills aside, women face challenges in the accounting field that their male counterparts typically do not. To start with, here are some of the top challenges most female accountants need to overcome in a workplace setup almost on a day-to-day basis:
Work-life balance: Accounting can be demanding, making it challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Things can also get more hectic during tax season, where accountants have to work anywhere between 60 to 100 hours per week leading up to filing deadlines.
Family: Similarly, it can be hard to run a family and advance your career. Though this issue also affects men, women are more likely to grapple with it due to widespread cultural norms.
Gender roles: In general, social norms and perceptions of gender roles can make it challenging to pursue a career in accounting. Women might face challenges in progressing into leadership roles in organizations that rigidly subscribe to certain gender norms.
The wage gap: Female accountants are often paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job. The BLS reports that male accountants earn a weekly median salary of $1,520 while women earn $1,186 per week. Combined with work-life balance difficulties and advancement struggles, the wage gap can make it harder for women to stay and thrive in the industry.
While you might or might not face these challenges, the awareness of such issues will significantly help manage and resolve them if they ever arise.
Even still, don't let these potential difficulties make you decide against pursuing a career in this field. Accounting provides far too many valuable opportunities for these challenges alone to deter you.
What opportunities are available in the Accounting field?
There's more to accounting than just crunching numbers. You can pursue countless exciting opportunities, allowing your career to align with your interests and passions. Some of the most popular specialties in the accounting field include:
- Public Accountant: Public accountants provide financial services to individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. Some of the services include auditing, financial record maintenance, tax planning, and consulting.
- Tax Accountant: Tax accountants ensure their clients comply with tax laws while helping them benefit as much as possible by mitigating unnecessary spending and maximizing returns out of their taxes.
- Managerial Accountant: Managerial accountants collect, record, and analyze data to help businesses make informed financial decisions.
- Internal Auditor: Internal auditors work as independent assessors who review a business's processes, operations, finances, and compliance with the law. If necessary, they also offer recommendations on improving those processes.
- Payroll Accountant: Payroll accountants oversee all payroll operations within an organization, including calculating employee salaries and conducting payroll audits.
- Information Technology (IT) Accountant: IT accountants combine traditional accounting practices with modern accounting technologies to improve and streamline an organization's financial processes.
- Personal Finance Advisor: As the name suggests, personal finance advisors help individuals with budgeting, investments, and financial planning to enjoy long-term financial stability.
- Forensic Accountant: Forensic accountants intersect heavily with the law. They investigate financial evidence, locate missing money, and serve as expert witnesses in the courtroom.
- Environmental Accountant: Environmental accountants help businesses determine the ecological cost of their decisions, how much it may cost to implement new environmentally-friendly policies, and what steps an organization must take to comply with environmental laws and regulations.
This is by no means all the career paths you can pursue as an accountant. For more information, check out this exhaustive list of Accounting jobs from AccountingEDU. In addition, depending on your interests and experience, there may be other ways to use your accounting skills in the field.
Skills you need to succeed in Accounting
Beyond knowledge of Mathematics and Accounting itself, some of the most critical skills you need to succeed as an accountant include:
Knowledge of accounting tools: You must know how to use popular accounting tools and technologies. This includes essential business tools and computer programs, and specialized accounting technologies, such as expense management software, budgeting programs, and bookkeeping tools. You will also need to get comfortable with any tools you need in your particular accounting specialty.
Time management: As an accountant, you must manage multiple upcoming deadlines, meetings, tasks, and responsibilities. For this, an accountant must know how to manage time effectively. This will help cultivate a healthy work-life balance and is necessary to take on management roles later in your career.
Written and verbal communication skills: Communication is vital for every employee in every industry, and accounting is no exception. You must be able to communicate with clients, coworkers, and employers across several different mediums. You'll also have to be comfortable translating numbers and explaining complex financial concepts to people who aren't familiar with them.
Problem-solving and critical thinking abilities: You have to have strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills. You don't have to have all of the answers ready, but you do have to be able to reason through an issue, think outside of the box, and come to a sensible, strategic solution for that circumstance.
That said, you don't have to be perfect at all aspects of accounting, especially if you're just starting. You'll have plenty of opportunities to identify and strengthen your accounting skills through your education and preparation to enter the workforce.
Educational requirements for a career in Accounting
To become an accountant, you will likely need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. It is not technically required, but many employers will require you to have a relevant degree to prove you have the knowledge and skills needed to work as an accountant. However, if you are interested in entry-level positions, such as a bookkeeper or accounting assistant, an associate's degree or professional certificate may be enough.
If you want to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or move into higher-level positions, you will need a bachelor's degree, if not an advanced degree. You may also need some form of certification or licensure.
Some positions or career paths may require picking a specialty, such as taxes, government or nonprofit work, forensics, or auditing. If you're so inclined, you can even obtain advanced degrees in accounting, including a master's degree or Ph.D.
Scholarships and Grants
College can be costly. And unfortunately, women are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to paying off student debt. Not only are women more likely to take out student loans, but they also graduate with more debt and — due to the gender wage gap — are not able to pay that debt off as quickly as men.
Scholarships can bring down the cost of your education and reduce the amount of debt you take on. Further, many organizations and groups offer financial assistance specifically to women pursuing accounting degrees or careers. Take advantage of these scholarships designed to support women like you.
Consider applying for one of the following scholarships to help fund your education:
- Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA) Scholarships: The AFWA offers multiple scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing an accounting or finance degree.
- The American Association of University Women (AAUW) Fellowships & Grants: The AAUW gives millions of dollars of funding to hundreds of award-winners each year to support women entering male-dominated fields.
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) Foundation Scholarships and Fellowships: The AICPA provides five different scholarships to students of all educational levels and minorities who want to become accountants.
- The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA) Awards: The EFWA offers various accounting scholarships for women at undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels.
- Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Support Awards: The Patsy Mink Education Foundation provides five awards each year to mothers entering their first year of post-secondary education.
- The Alliance of Black Women Accountants (ABWA) Scholarships: The ABWA has two different scholarships open to women of color to pursue a career in accounting or finance.
- The Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards: The Live Your Dream Awards support women who are the primary financial supporters in their families to improve their education and career prospects.
- Women in Public Finance (WPF) Award & Scholarship: WPF awards ten scholarships each year to women starting their first year of college to pursue a finance career.
Don't stop your scholarship hunt at this list. Instead, look for additional awards offered by your college, company, or individuals in your community. It takes time to find and apply for scholarships, but your efforts can, quite literally, pay off.
In addition to formal education, future accountants can benefit significantly from getting real-world accounting experience. One of the best ways to do so is through an internship. An internship helps you understand what the full-time job will entail. It also enables you to prepare to enter the workforce when you're still getting your degree.
An internship can also help you bridge the knowledge gap that colleges and degrees might not teach. This knowledge, in turn, can prepare you for more advanced courses that explore different specializations earlier in your academic career.
Most colleges help students to find internships. Depending on your school or program, you may also get class credits for these internships. While some internships may pay you, you may have to find them on your own. You can do so by looking for businesses in the community that are hiring, asking your professional and academic connections, or by using traditional job-hunting websites.
Aspiring and established accountants can benefit from having a mentor to help you grow as a professional. A mentor has countless benefits, including greater perspective into the nuances, experienced point-of-view at all times, guided growth plans, and greater career satisfaction.
Finding a mentor can be challenging in itself, but it's essential to be patient while you look for the right person. Consider what qualities you value in a mentor and your own career goals before looking for a mentor.
With both of these things in mind, you have a better chance of finding someone who can help you achieve your goals. You can also return the favor by serving as a mentor yourself a little later in your career.
Career Growth for Women in Accounting
While you can work as an accountant for the duration of your career, accounting can also prepare you for and lead you to advancement opportunities. Your financial knowledge, critical thinking skills, and ability to respond to unexpected situations are all excellent primers for career growth.
Depending on the path you take, you could open your own business, manage and supervise other accountants, or end up in company leadership as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Historically, women have not had the same access to these opportunities as male accountants. A report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) found that, on average, it takes women seven years longer to reach the executive level than men.
Further, a separate report from the Accounting MOVE Project found that, though women make up over 60% of accountants and auditors in the U.S, only 27% are partners or principals at CPA firms. These discrepancies grow even more significant for women of color, who are generally underrepresented in the accounting profession.
Slowly but surely, this gap has started to close. More organizations have begun to understand the value of female leaders and are developing and retaining them as per the Accounting MOVE Project report. Further, with more women entering the accounting profession, there is a growing talent pool and a significant chance for women accountants to rise as a community of talented workforce.
Accounting Job Boards and Websites
To achieve career growth, you first have to get experience as an accountant. Take some time to find the right opportunity for your needs and desired career goals. On top of being more valuable and enriching, this will help set you up for long-term professional success.
Luckily, many job search websites focus exclusively on accounting or the financial sector, simplifying and streamlining the entire process:
- Accounting.com Job Board: Accounting.com finds relevant job listings from all over the web and houses them in a single place to make it easier to find open positions.
- AccountingCrossing.com: AccountingCrossing is a private job site that researches hard-to-find positions and makes them available exclusively to their members.
- Accountingfly: In addition to traditional positions, Accountingfly helps find remote positions, such as cloud-based accounting jobs.
- AFWA Career Center: The AFWA Career Center connects accounting professionals with the various organizations looking to hire them.
- American Accounting Association Career Center: The American Accounting Association helps you search for open accounting positions and provides additional career planning resources, such as resume assistance.
- The AICPA Career Hub: The AICPA Career Hub caters to both applicants and organizations. This enables the right person to end up in the right position.
- American Payroll Association Job Board: The American Payroll Association has a simple interface, streamlining the job-hunting process.
- The ACCA: The ACCA allows you to search for jobs all over the world, as well as remote positions and internships.
- eFinancialCareers: eFinancialCareers curates job listings for a variety of careers in the financial sector, including accounting.
- FinancialJobBank: Similarly, FinancialJobBanks caters to a wide audience for different jobs in finance, which encompasses accounting.
- FinancialJobsWeb.com: FinancialJobWebs serves all kinds of financial professionals (again, including accountants) who are looking for a new job.
- iHireAccounting: iHireAccounting focuses on helping accounting professionals find an open position. They also provide additional career resources, such as interviewing tips.
- OneWire: OneWire finds and presents various accounting jobs and other open positions in the financial sector.
Professional Organizations and Networking Groups for Women
Simply put, a network is a community of individuals who share the same interests. Professional networking groups are a great way to meet new individuals from a similar background as yours in the professional setup. Additionally, many female accountants have benefited from connecting with other female accountants who do their part to support newcomers who join the financial sector.
Women-only groups provide the chance to meet other women in a safe environment where people are often more focused on helping each other rather than selling themselves. Of course, there is still value in non-gendered networking events, but you can have a very different experience when networking with other women.
If you're interested, there are many professional organizations explicitly created to connect and support women in the financial industry:
- 100 Women in Finance: This networking group is open to women who work in the finance industry.
- The AFWA: The AFWA facilitates connections between women in accounting and finance to achieve their full potential within their profession.
- The ABWA: The ABWA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women of color in accounting and finance professions.
- The AICPA - Women in the Profession: The AICPA offers resources and networking opportunities to help women succeed in financial careers.
- The AICPA Online Mentoring Program: Similarly, the AICPA has an online mentoring program where you can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee.
- The EFWA: The EFWA supports women in accounting in multiple ways, including mentoring, networking, and financial assistance.
- The Financial Women's Association (FWA): The FWA is a long-standing professional organization for women in the finance industry.
- The Lady CPA Network: The Lady CPA Network is a nonprofit organization that supports black women who work in accounting and finance professions.
With a network of like-minded professional women working together to challenge and break the set gender norms, you will have all the support, knowledge, skills, and strength to succeed in your career as an accountant.