A new study says that women are increasingly attaining leadership positions in public accounting firms, and more accountants are taking advantage of the alternative career paths offered by an increasing number of firms.

The study, "A Decade of Changes in the Accounting Profession: Workforce Trends and Human Capital Practices," was conducted with the support of the American Institute of CPAs Work/Life and Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, and explored a range of topics, including career advancement, turnover and mentoring.

Over 2,600 CPAs took part in the research, including those working both in firms and in business and industry. It was the fourth study the committee commissioned since 1992.

While women now account for 19 percent of all firm partners, up from 12 percent a decade ago, the study also reported that only 38 percent of firms surveyed offer some kind of alternative career path that does not lead to partner, such as choosing to stay a senior manager or moving into a less client-service-driven area, like recruiting.

"Leadership needs to spend more time, effort and resources at all levels to redefine what it is that people really need to thrive today," said AICPA chairwoman Leslie Murphy, in a statement.

The report concluded that the accounting workforce is changing faster than human resources policies can adjust, noting significant gaps between what firms think motivates and retains people and what is effective in actual practice.

The report offered a number of recommendations for both firms and individual CPAs, among them:

  • Employers should be more proactive in providing guidance to both mentors and protégés on how to have a more effective relationship; professionals, in turn, should actively seek out mentors.
  • Firms and companies must provide access to professional development opportunities in response to an increasingly diverse workforce.
  • Women should be more aggressive about seeking out career opportunities and informing their supervisors about their aspirations.
  • Work/life effectiveness must be perceived as a business strategy.

The entire report is available as a PDF document from the AICPA Web site by clicking on the "Research" tab at www.aicpa.org/worklife.

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