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A woman's perspective on the profession.

Both sexes can benefit from more flexible attitudes toward work and scheduling.

The battle of the sexes rages on! Despite the gains women have made in public accounting over the last 10 years, there are still major problems to be worked out.

Last year, the American Institute of CPAs national practice management conference in Boston featured an early-morning session on women in the profession. Out of 300 participants at the conference, 75 (mostly men) came to hear a panel discuss how CPA firms can attract and retain women. Some of the suggestions included on-site Saturday day-care, flexible hours and part-time work schedules.

After panel members gave their views, the floor was opened to discussion. One partner rose and expressed his frustration with female accountants. Among his complaints were

1. Women are too emotional and cry easily.

2. After an accountant in his firm gave birth, she had substantially less interest in her career.

3. Travel and overtime are problems as soon as female accountants have children.

4. Women quit their jobs when their spouses are relocated.

5. Women don't work well with other women.

I stood up to respond to this participant's comments at the conference and this article grew out of the notes I made. As a CPA firm partner who's been in the profession for 14 years, I have some insights on women in public accounting. I received my accounting degree in 1978, worked in private industry for four years, have been in public accounting for nine years and a partner for five years. I also have three children, ages 3, 7 and 11. All three of these births were timed to be sure that they would fall outside tax season

I am well aware of the problems working mothers face. Here are some of my own answers to concerns about women in the profession.

EMOTIONALISM

Yes, women do cry occasionally. I admit I have cried twice in my professional career, both times when I was pregnant and my hormones were raging wildly. I also have seen male employees get upset and use abusive language, threaten physical violence or just walk out the door. None of these is a good response to an upsetting situation, but crying is certainly no worse than any of the others. An abusive or violent employee could be the cause of a lawsuit or other serious problems for a firm; the same cannot be said of an employee who has a tendency to shed tears.

If a manager or partner is always having a problem with female accountants crying, perhaps the real issue is that person's communication style. it really is not necessary to reduce an employee to tears in order to get a point across.

MOTHERHOOD OR CAREER?

A baby may indeed take precedence over a woman's career for a while. However, a 50 year-old male who survives a heart attack also might spend the first months after the attack focusing more of his attention on his family and personal life than on his career. Giving birth or surviving a heart attack are both highly emotional experiences that can change a person's priorities. Women accountants may be affected by their experiences with childbirth early in their careers, while male accountants are more vulnerable to heart disease later in life. What's important is that both men and women an benefit from a firm that takes care of its employees.

All of us have clients who own several successful businesses, yet they don't spend 40 or 50 hours a week at each. If employers could think of working mothers as clients with two businesses, that of accountant and mother, perhaps more flexible work schedules would seem reasonable. The time spent being an accountant can still be very productive and lucrative to the firm. The skills at once, juggling several people's demands and keeping calm in the midst of chaos, also are the attributes of a successful CPA.

TRAVEL AND OVERTIME

These can be a problem for working mother. It would seem. though, that firms would not be greatly harmed by exempting some members from these requirements for a few months or years. Sometimes a little flexibility is all that's needed. The alternative is to terminate the employee. If a firm has invested several years and many dollars into training someone, it's better to be flexible than to lose her completely.

I returned to work two and a half months after my first child was born and five seeks after I gave birth to my second. When the third came along, I decided something had to change. I was exhausted and less effective at work and at home. I arranged to work 6 hours a day, although I would stay longer if I was in session with a client or had a deadline. During tax season, I was able to work 50 hours a week because I knew it would be over by April 15.

The part-time schedule made me feel as if a big load had been lifted from my shoulders. I could spend more time with my children and get involved in their activities. I also found I was more productive at work. Although I was there only 6 hours, I usually produced the equivalent of 7 hours' work.

The most beneficial aspect of working part-time was that I really learned to delegate. Since I couldn't be there all the time, I learned what could be given to others and what really required my input. This is a valuable lesson for any manager.

Male participants at the practice management session also worried that female partners with children would want a reduced work schedule but no change in compensation. This obviously is not fair. When my third child was born, I had been a partner for two years. When I decided I needed to work fewer hours, I offered to reduce my salary by an equal percentage as well as my share of the profits. This arrangement could work for many women and their firms.

Firms should remember flexible or part-time schedules for parents don't mean everyone in the firm will work part-time. If partners encourage a team spirit, there shouldn't be resentment over special arrangements for employees who need them.

FOLLOW THE SPOUSE

Losing female employees when spouses relocate is not as much a problem as it once was. As women advance in their careers and in the workplace, their professional opportunities are forcing husbands to move with them just as often as wives traditionally did. In my firm, we have had greater turnover among males than females in the last decade. The males may not have left to have children or follow a relocated spouse, but the fact is they're gone and no longer benefiting the firm.

My firm has found its flexible work schedules have inspired great loyalty among female employees. Money isn't everything to employees, so a firm that cooperates with employees and treats them with respect should have no trouble attracting and retaining qualified people.

OTHER WOMEN

There are several reasons for the perception that woman don't work well together. Often women believe they have t be twice as good as men to get ahead. This may cause a perfectionist streak that can be irritating. In addition, some women who were pioneers in their fields have little experience working with other women and have had no female role models of their own. As women advance in business and male professionals start to accept them as equals, both of these problems should be solved.

IS THE CLIENT HAPPY?

Clients are very important to an accounting firm. None of my clients was disturbed by my temporary switch to a part-time schedule because I took care of them as well as I had before. Knowing how to delegate work made it possible for me to spend the same amount of time with clients. If a client called when I was at home, the secretary would say I was away from the officer. If it was something urgent, she would call me at home and I would then telephone the client from there.

Accountants are frequently out on business, so clients don't question their absences. I know lawyers who spend part of the winter in Florida but continue serving clients in the Northeast full-time using telephones, fax machines and overnight mail, Women CPAs on flexible or part-time schedules often have evening fee to do tax returns or other computer work at home; firms need only learn to take advantage of this resource.

Attitude is the key to making flexible and part-time schedules work for both employee and employer. If the employer is convinced the firm will not succeed unless all employees work full-time on standard days and hours, turnover is likely to be high. If, instead, an employer wants to profit from its investment in an employee and agrees to find a happy medium, it will enjoy a loyal work force that will pitch in when extra effort is needed because the employer supported the employees when they needed it.

CLEARER PRIORITIES

One of the conference speakers said no one on his deathbed ever said he wished he'd spent more time at the office. There's no reason that men as well as women should not benefit from more flexible attitudes toward work and scheduling. In the days when women stayed home to raise the children, men often had to work long hours to make enough money to make ends meet. Consequently, many children who grew up in my generation knew our mothers well but did not have much of a relationship with our fathers.

We need to strike a balance between the two extremes. Flexible hours plus the option of part-time work schedules for either parent will benefit society as well as families. This new approach will change the way accounting firms are run, but it is certain at the same time to create happier and healthier firms.

HOW IS THE

PROFESSION DOING?

How the Accounting Profession Is Addressing Upward Mobility of Women and Family Issues in the Workplace, a report issued by the American Institute of CPAs upward mobility of women committee, examines various programs implemented by CPA firms an others to help employees balance family obligations with career growth. Through interviews with employers, the report reveals efforts to address family issues in the workplace. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in addressing advancement opportunities for female CPAs.

Despite an earlier AICPA survey projecting that more than half the accounting graduates in the 1990-1991 academic year will be female, this report cites several studies that illustrate how few women CPAs are in positions of power, According to some employers contacted, female CPAs - especially those in public practice - often redirect their careers before they reach senior management because they believe they don't have the same opportunities as men. In addition, public accounting often is perceived as being too difficult an arena in which to balance work and family.

Some employers have taken steps to address these concerns. A few have established mentor programs to enhance upward mobility. One firm offers a gender-awareness training workshop to sensitize male and female employees to gender differences in the workplace. Also, a number of firms particularly the larger ones, have formed task forces or committees intended to examine issues such as retention of female staff.

While accounting employers have made few strides in women's upward mobility, their track record has been considerably better in helping employees balance family and work concerns. Many of those contacted cited specific programs addressing alternative work schedules, leaves of absence and child and elder care, among others. For example, one firm permits employees to take unpaid leave during the slow season (typically the summer) while retaining their benefits. Another provides emergency child care when an employee's child is ill.

The report concludes with a brief look at some activities conducted by the upward mobility of women committee, as well as some guidelines on what firms and other organizations can do to encourage women's advancement. The committee, which recently changed its strategic thrust from monitoring to a proactive role, is planning several activities this year, including establishing a resource clearinghouse on women's and family issues in the workplace. The clearinghouse will serve as an internal library of articles, human resource policies, etc., from which individuals can request information. The committee also will restructure its state liaison program to enhance exposure for women's upward mobility issues at the local level. The program will make state societies more aware of what the committee is doing and encourage greater society involvement.

For a copy of the committee report, contact the AICPA academic and career development division, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10036-8775. In addition, members should contact the division for further information on how employers are addressing family and women's issues in the workplace or to share information on their employers' programs.

JOY C. CHILD, CPA, is a partner of Lainer, Child and Chambers, Worcester, Massachusetts.

JOHN L. DAIDONE, manager, the American Institute of CPAs academic and career development division

Mr. Daidone is an employee of the American Institute of CPAs and his views, as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; certified public accountants
Author:Daidone, John L.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Words:2219
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