Women are changing the face of accounting as more of them enter the profession. According to research by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), there were only 750 female CPAs in 1952. That number increased to 2,000 in 1972 and to 108,000 in 2005.
“We see the increasing numbers in our membership and in their leadership roles in our chapters, at the board level and in top leadership positions,” says Jack Coppernbarger, executive director of the Mississippi Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA). “The AICPA’s Work/Life and Women’s Initiative Executive Committee also noted the organizational changes women have influenced in the profession to assist the needs of young working families. Those include flex time, telecommuting, work/life options and employee assistance and mentoring programs.”
Four women CPAs interviewed by the Mississippi Business Journal agree that the increasing presence of their gender is making a mark on the profession, and all say they recommend accounting to other women.
“Women are driving some of the work/life balance issues. We bring a different approach,” says Jan Lewis, president elect of the MSCPA. “Still, male and female CPAs have far more in common than not in common.”
She tells students the vision of an accountant with a green visor working 20 hours a day is outdated. “I tell them what it’s really like, and I think it’s the absolute best profession for girls, especially if you’re detail oriented and like problem solving,” she says. “But mainly, you need to do what you’re good at.”
Lewis specializes in tax accounting and estate and retirement planning with the Jackson firm of Haddox Reid Burkes & Calhoun. She says she really didn’t want to be an accountant because her older brother and sister were both accountants, and she wanted to do something different.
“We’re all different personality types. As a business major, I had to take Accounting 101, and loved it,” she says. “The fact that I loved it is the real reason it was right for me, and that’s why anyone should do it.”
Her brother is a CFO of a company, her sister is a CPA at an
oil and gas company, and she is a public accountant, Lewis says to point out the versatility and demand of an accounting degree.
“People are realizing the value of an accounting degree as opposed to a general business degree,” she adds. “It’s a degree that permeates many areas of business.”
That thought is echoed by Annette Pridgen, a Jacksonian who is currently working toward a doctoral degree in accounting at the University of Mississippi after working in the State Auditor’s Office. Currently, accounting majors at Ole Miss are split 50/50 along gender lines.
“When my career began, a lot of women went into education, but I liked the problem solving, setting controls and looking at internal systems of accounting and seeing things balance,” she says. “I do most definitely recommend it as a career for women. It has allowed me to have a family with a normal home life.”
Now Pridgen says the transition to the academic world is a wonderful choice for her and she plans to teach full time after completing this advanced degree.
Juliette Mays of The Byrne CPA Firm in Houston says women have taken care of the finances of their homes for generations and have made the natural transition to doing it in the workplace. “It is just now that we are working outside the home and doing it for others,” she says.
She feels women add to the overall thought processes of accounting. They also attack problems in a different way than men.
“Not that one is better than the other — they’re just different and sometimes that’s what it takes,” she says. “Also, there are so many women in business for themselves now, and I think they relate to another woman better than a man. Sometimes, a man can give the impression of the woman not being able to handle high finance.”
Mays’ route to becoming a CPA took a lengthy route. After high school, she worked many years as a bookkeeper. She was laid off and found that most bookkeeping jobs were being taken by accountants.
“I was able to do the work, but I wasn’t being paid the money,” she says. “So, I decided I would go to school and get my degree and become an accountant. I worked as a bookkeeper and accountant while taking the CPA exam.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.