Climbing the Ladder: Improving Career Paths for Women in Accounting and Finance

What a difference a decade can make. Just 10 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for women in accounting jobs to struggle as they attempted to advance through the ranks at work. These days, though, not only are more accounting and finance firms recruiting women – they’re also promoting them.

In a recent Robert Half survey of more than 2,100 chief financial officers (CFOs) in 20 of the largest U.S. markets, more than four in 10 (42 percent) respondents said women in the accounting and finance fields have more opportunities to advance in their firms than they did 10 years ago. Just four percent of CFOs said that advancement opportunities had decreased. 

The welcome report comes hand-in-hand with the good news that more women are graduating from college with accounting and finance degrees than ever before, and in the past decade or so, firms are recruiting and hiring an almost equal number of men and women into entry-level accounting jobs.

But that doesn’t mean the glass ceiling’s been shattered. Recent studies have shown women are still underrepresented at in the higher levels of accounting and finance. For example, although women make up well over 40 percent of employees at Big Four accounting firms, just under 20 percent of partners at those firms are female, according to a Public Accounting Report.

“Many organizations have made great strides in promoting female professionals in accounting and finance to the executive ranks, but there’s more to do,” said Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director. “Ensuring a diverse staff and attracting and retaining top talent should be an ongoing priority.”

So how can companies help women in accounting and finance move up in the organization?

  1. First, firms should make sure all employees, male and female, are given the opportunity to develop their skills, whether through outside training or on-the-job experience.
  2. Second, accounting and finance companies should consider creating mentor relationships for employees. All professionals can benefit from the advice and insights a more experienced coworker can provide about the best ways to advance within the firm. Mentors can also offer constructive feedback to help newer employees build the skills and business smarts they need to earn promotions.
  3. Finally, companies can encourage women in accounting jobs to participate in professional organizations.  To encourage the recruiting, retention and promotion of women in accounting jobs, Accountemps and Robert Half Finance & Accounting have long supported the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA), which helps women in accounting and finance achieve their professional goals and contribute to the development of the industry. For instance, at the 2013 annual AFWA conference, held in October in Indianapolis, college students took part in an Executive Host Tour, which gave the aspiring finance professionals a chance to visit a Big Four accounting firm and learn what it’s like to work there. 

With just a few steps, companies can help women in accounting and finance gain access to networking and leadership development opportunities. And those firms that foster a diverse workplace – one that combines perspectives and experiences of all types of people – will always better appeal to new hires and new customers.