The Non-Traditional Route for Women in Accounting: The Importance of Mentoring

Contributed by Sandra B. Richtermeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA

The accounting field offers great opportunities for women; however, it is unfortunate to see that while more than 55 percent of undergraduate accounting majors are women, only nine percent hold senior level roles, according to a recent CFO article. Although this data is disheartening, the disparity offers women a great opportunity to close this gap by playing a leading role in the growth and success of their peers. But how?

For the past five years, I have been involved with the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA), an organization with a primarily educational mission that stresses the importance of women’s involvement in mentoring. While there are scholarship and mentoring programs geared toward traditional undergraduate lifestyles, EFWA supports the nontraditional route for women in need – either due to a life changing circumstance, women in a career transition or for those who may not have had the opportunity to attend a four year college following high school.

Beyond monetary assistance, the need for emotional and moral support along the path of professional development is immeasurable. Mentoring encourages, enables and empowers women to seek and achieve equal opportunities and equal compensation.

The Importance of Mentoring Programs

By definition, mentoring is the passage of knowledge and experience from one generation to the next and, over the past few years, organizations have warmed to the idea of implementing such programs in order to retain top talent and help mothers stay competitive in the workforce. In an era of dual-income families, this practice has become increasingly important for women as they look to find balance between a successful career and family life.

This is especially true for women in the midst of a career transition, as it often comes with its own set of unique challenges. However, the accounting profession is great for women on the nontraditional path, since it allows women to acquire vast general skills that can help prepare them for a wide range of opportunities. Many women are usually well suited for a career in accounting given their innate ability to multitask and juggle various projects.

EFWA’s scholarships help to fine-tune these skills and provide individuals with the education needed to obtain their degree. EFWA offers three programs specifically designed to cater to women in need:

  • The Laurels Fund: The Laurels Fund was established in 1978 with the purpose of providing scholarships to female students who are pursuing advanced degrees in accounting.
  • Women in Transition: The Women in Transition scholarship was designed for women who have become the primary source of support for themselves and their families and wish to return to school to obtain a degree in accounting. This scholarship is available to incoming or current freshmen and women returning to school with a freshman status.
  • Women in Need: The Women in Need scholarship was designed for women who have become the primary source of support for themselves and their families and are in need of assistance to complete their work for a degree in accounting. This scholarship is available to incoming, current or reentry juniors.

How Being a Mentor Can Help You

Proactive involvement in mentoring programs can enhance professional development and showcase strong leadership skills to current and prospective employers.

In addition to professional advancements, mentoring offers personal fulfillment. In EFWA’s program, each individual that qualifies for a scholarship is given a mentor. For many years now, I have mentored many women who are close to my age, older or younger than me. Many of them mothers just like me who are focused first and foremost on raising their children, but also on preparing themselves for solid careers in various positions in the accounting profession. It is one of my favorite activities to watch the growth and development of so many wonderful women and know that I am personally involved in some aspect of their success.

How Can You Get Involved?

In addition to individual opportunities, companies and organizations can get behind this cause as well. Companies should look to incorporate mentoring services into their leadership programs as a fundamental aspect of employee development. If your company doesn’t already have a process like this in practice, a great leadership activity for you is to get this on the management team’s agenda.

In addition, professional organizations can play a strong role in the success of mentoring programs as well. For example, the EFWA has a rooted partnership with The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). IMA has provided support for EFWA’s cause by helping its scholarship recipients prepare for certification by offering them free Certified Management Accountant (CMA) review systems, providing monetary support and developing its own scholarship under EFWA, the IMA Undergraduate Scholarship.

Lastly, individuals can get involved by reaching out to colleges and universities as well as professional organizations that they belong to. If you are interested in learning more about EFWA, supporting collective efforts or getting involved as a mentor, please contact them at Mentoring other women and helping them achieve their personal and professional aspirations can be a very rewarding experience.

Look around you…do you see someone that has incredible potential but could use a little help? Reach down the career ladder and participate in their success. It’s well worth the time and effort.

Sandra B. Richtermeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, is Chair of the Department of Accountancy at Xavier University’s Williams College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is 2010-2011 Chair of IMA, the association for accountants and financial professionals in business.