Art of Accounting: Female staff are smarter than male staff

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A hot issue I have been asked about in the past year is why there are far fewer women than men as partners in CPA firms. This is a big issue for many CPA societies and large firms. I’ve written about this a few times, but not here, and want to share a recent thought.

I had a call from the managing partner of a 50-person firm that had just lost a very good staff person who left to go into private practice. He asked if I had any ideas about how they could prevent this in the future.

I asked a few questions and found out the staff person was a woman who had been with the firm for four years. They had hired her out of school and trained her. She was very bright. She worked on the same clients for all four years and the clients loved working with her. She primarily did small businesses and a wide variety of tax preparation — all sorts of returns. Their tax season hours averaged about 60 hours a week and they paid a nice bonus on June 30 when they also gave out good raises. But the firm had no mentoring program, and only one of the eight partners was a woman.

My discussion dealt with the “intelligence” level of the staff person. I suggested that if she was as smart as he said, they why would they expect her to work 60 hours a week for two-and-a-half months a year for a vague payment at their discretion (no matter how good they thought it was) at a much later time so there was no connection with the efforts and reward, on clients that offered no growth (since she worked on the same clients she started with), with no variety of work and no review or audit work? On top of that, it seemed like she had no role model in the firm and there was no one mentoring or helping to guide her career.

The firm was large enough to offer her opportunities to grow, with both types of clients and services, but did not. On some level they took her for granted, not in a mean sense but in an insensitive manner. The payment method, as my father would say “in my humble opinion,” is an old model that I do not think is effective anymore. It’s not designed to elicit loyalty, extra effort or family buy-in, and is subject, in some employees’ opinions, to short-changing the staff.

Now, about the title of this column: What does this have to do with women being smarter than men? Plenty! Women are much more aware of the time they spend because they are much more responsible than men for managing their household, children and family affairs. They have to continuously multitask and juggle their many duties.

I believe women are much more proactive in their careers. When they reach a point that is not satisfying them, they are more apt to leave. Men, on the other hand, are singularly focused on their careers without the distractions of daily living, so they tend to remain even when they feel they are in an unsatisfying situation. (Note that I am writing in generalities and not claiming that all women or men are as I suggest.)

Not everything I said above is always true, and much might not be so at all, but it is my opinion that this presents reasons why fewer women remain in public accounting than men. I also feel it is always a shame when someone good leaves public accounting — it is a loss for the profession. We need to find ways to keep them. Hopefully, some of my readers will think about what I said and perhaps start to make some changes if it is applicable in their practices.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with practice management questions.

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Gender issues Gender discrimination Partnerships Partner compensation Career advancement Mentoring Ed Mendlowitz