I’m working on our annual women in accounting feature and one question keeps popping up: why, in 2009 are we still discussing the lack of high ranking women in the profession?

And to piggyback on that thought, my next question is – do younger women coming into accounting have it easier than those veterans who have been paving the way?

It was clear when I went to the Forum for Women in Accounting in August that yes, it is most definitely necessary to keep talking about this issue. It’s astounding to me when I meet Baby Boomer women who say, “I’m so happy they let me come this year! This is great! I’ve never been to anything like this!” It’s like, who’s the “they” in that sentence?

Of course we know.

It’s the men in firms who still hold a majority of decision-making power, primarily because they are stakeholders and control the finances of the firms.

Of course, that is not the case in every firm, but let’s be real – it’s the case in many.

Now, I’m not dogging on the men, here. Really. Many male CPAs, especially now, are stepping up and getting with the program – power is shifting and women need to step into theirs and take the opportunities right in front of them – even if that means, fighting to go to a very important professional development conference.

Of course, that’s not always easy.

But I do wonder, if it’s easier for the younger professionals just coming in. Picture this: you’re a partner or senior manager. You have a talented female up-and-comer in your office or at a staff meeting say she wants to attend such and such a conference because of x, y and z, ROI. Recession and slashed travel budgets aside, do you say no? And if you do, how do you do it so that she doesn’t get discouraged and think you don’t care about her future?

Whereas I wonder, if it were a middle-aged woman coming into that same office with that same request – would the response be the same or different?

You tell me.

Different generations have different challenges. This we know. Certainly women coming into firms today have role models, have a better chance to find a mentor that fits and may not have to struggle as hard as their accounting foremothers. And for that, young professionals should thank those who have come before them.

On the flip side, we also know that sometimes it’s the more veteran women who are reluctant to start women’s initiatives or can sometimes resist programs that usher in change because well, put simply, they didn’t have the help and had to shoulder the struggle themselves.


These are touchy dynamics. Certainly not ones that firms want to talk about openly. Yet I pose this question to the fearless – what has been your experience?