In honor of International Women's Day—a century-old global event that brings the world together in celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women—we look at challenges women face in the workplace and ways the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the unified voice of the AICPA and CIMA, can help.
Support amidst challenges
1. Find a sponsor. Sponsors can play a significant role in advancing a career. The people they know can become the people you know. They can open doors for you and introduce you to clients. They can advocate on your behalf in meetings and casual conversation and protect you from political dynamics of the workplace.
A sponsor can have a positive impact on someone's career, but women are at a disadvantage in finding a sponsor in the workplace because a vast majority of leaders in the CPA profession are men. It is a behavioral norm for men to bond with other men in the workplace or have a connection with someone who went to the same college or grew up in the same town. This is known as affinity bias.
2. Balance work and life. Family structures have changed from having women stay at home to raise the children to one where many households are dual income. Along with the family structure, our profession must evolve and embrace flexible work arrangements. I recently spoke with a young leader who was told she cannot advance in the firm on a flexible work arrangement. Despite the progress we’ve made, we still have a long way to go to change some of the daily challenges that women in firms experience.
3. Identify role models. Visible role models are important because you cannot become what you cannot see, and inspiration brings aspiration. You have to see something to believe it. For the past 40 plus years, women have entered the profession at 47% — about an equal number to men. Yet only 23% of partners are women at CPA firms today according to AICPA surveys.
Women face great challenges in the workforce. Nonetheless, there are a few key things you can do to break through stale societal constructs:
1. Seek flexible work arrangements.
- Talk to your employer about introducing programs that help to provide a work/life synergy.
- Use technology — you can check work updates on your phone and still attend your child’s ballet performance instead of having to choose one over the other.
- Look for employers that encourage virtual collaboration and flexible hours.
2. Create mentorship programs with a focus on gender equality.
- Create a mentorship program with a focus on diversity. Have mentors and protégés assigned based on how diverse they are, or instead of allowing mentors to choose their mentees, switch it around. Create better opportunities for finding sponsors and advocates.
- Facilitate networking events that are created specifically for women to see other women in positions of seniority, encouraging women to see that they have a future in the profession.
3. Attend the AICPA & CIMA Global Women’s Summit.
The summit is a chance for women to connect with amazing leaders, learn from them, share best experiences and support each other.
It's also important for men to attend the Women’s Summit. We can collaborate about the need to keep the best talent in the profession. And to get and retain talent, we need to advocate for women and close the gender gap at the leadership level.
These are steps to overcome some of the most common challenges for women in the workplace. Each woman’s experience is unique — so are her challenges. Stay strong! Much progress has been made, but more needs to be done in the fight for equality.
Yasmine El-Ramly CPA, CGMA, Director – Governance, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants