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6 Ways Women CPAs Can Accelerate Their Careers

WomenMarch is Women’s History Month, a worthwhile time to consider the many contributions that women have made to our country’s progress. In fact, this is also an interesting time in the history of women in the CPA profession. Given the retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation and the fierce competition for talent, it’s clear that the profession is evolving to create more opportunities and to attract and retain a more diverse range of professionals.

And that’s good news for women, because the accounting profession is a great place for us to be right now. The career opportunities for women are endless -- both in public practice and management accounting. How can you take advantage of these opportunities to find the success you’re seeking?

Here are a few tips for making the most of the options I believe are awaiting female CPAs today.

  • Consider your path to promotion. Do you know where you’d like your career to lead --and the route you’ll need to take to get there? Take some time to determine your goals and then talk to a supervisor, mentor or coach about the best ways to reach them. Those in charge may not realize your aspirations unless you share them.
  • Remember that the way forward may not always be straight. CPAs have an incredible ability to move among and within organizations to find our passion. Review the many openings available to see which ones best suit the career you want to build. If you’re concerned about work/life integration, you may find that your employer is open to accepting an alternate schedule or career path.
  • Don’t go it alone. There are actually three parts to this step:
  1. Find a great mentor. Mentoring can provide professionals with the tools and confidence they need to succeed. I’ve found that it’s certainly possible to learn from different kinds of mentors. Don’t concern yourself with gender. Mine have been mostly male, and their perspectives and advice have been invaluable. 
  2. Build a strong support system. Your mentor will be your first source of inspiration and feedback, but it’s also a good idea to put together a “personal board of directors,” people at different levels and with different viewpoints and experiences who can offer advice or serve as a sounding board in a wide range of situations. They can be a source of great ideas and give you added confidence in your own decisions. And remember that asking for help is not an imposition or a sign of weakness, but a smart acknowledgement of what you need.
  3. Cultivate your network. Building relationships is important, including those in and outside the profession and with people you meet in person or through social media. It can help you expand your knowledge and skills -- and your professional horizons.
  • Take risks. A good stretch assignment can move you to the next level in your career, but that often means being willing to take on a job that may seem daunting and outside your comfort zone. Having been thrown into advanced roles I wasn’t certain I could handle, I found it is amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it. Believe in your ability to drive organizational value and go for that promotion even if you think you are unprepared or ill equipped. It’s unlikely you were tapped for advancement if you didn’t deserve it. 
  • Promote yourself if you want to be promoted. Self-promotion is hard for many of us, but opportunities for growth don’t come around often, and you may miss a great chance if people aren’t aware of your accomplishments and your potential. Avoid selling yourself short in terms of your capabilities and ability to adapt.
  • Accept a lack of perfection. It’s tough to be good at everything at once. On some days, you’ll feel that you’re a superstar on the professional side but not so much on the personal side, and vice versa. Recognize that the two sides will likely balance out in the end and appreciate all that you actually have accomplished in the meantime.

Finally, I would urge women CPAs to trust themselves. If you believe in yourself, others will pick up on that attitude. And why shouldn’t you feel confident? Businesses know they need women to create and drive value. More importantly, they are acutely aware of studies showing that businesses with women in leadership roles perform better than businesses that do not. That means strong, intelligent women -- like my fellow CPAs -- are at a premium. This is a great time to make your own history, so don’t miss the chance to do it.

The AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee has created a wealth of resources to help women interested in advancing their careers, including mentoring information, tools related to work/life integration, research and an AICPA Women in the Profession LinkedIn group. The Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee will launch an online mentoring program after busy season. You can register in advance by clicking here. Check out the resources available today to learn how they can help you find your own success.

Susan S. Coffey, CPA, CGMA, is Senior Vice President- Public Practice & Global Alliances, American Institute of CPAs.

Women in business courtesy of Shutterstock


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