Looking Back

Today women make up 30% of the AICPA membership and 57% of accounting graduates. However, the role of women in the profession was not always clear. Below, in chronological order, are excerpts from three articles from JofA s of different decades about the experiences of and prospects for women in the profession. They are presented here as part of a series of articles leading up to our centennial issue in October. Can you guess when these articles originally were published? You’ll find the answers below.

Looking Back

1. “One of the questions most frequently asked of practising accountants concerns the opportunity which accountancy offers or fails to offer for women…. This magazine is frequently requested to give advice and assistance to women who have finished accounting courses and now feel themselves competent to enter the office of a public accountant as a member of the staff. The fact that most such efforts fail causes a good deal of distress and heartburning, both of which are quite justifiable. But the fact of the matter is that women are not wanted as accountants on the staff of practising public accountants…. Few accountants display a willingness to employ women on their staffs, even for the purpose of giving them the experience required under the preliminary-practice clauses of law and regulation. In a word, then, the prospects for women in the field of accountancy are not brilliant. For that kind of accounting work which is involved in comptrollerships, treasurerships and the like, women have a distinct opportunity. In many such instances their abilities and characteristics render them far more suitable than a man would be likely to be. But as to the public field, it must be admitted, with regret, that the woman who succeeds is the rare exception.”

2. “The numbers of women in the accounting profession have grown slowly but steadily in the past twenty years. In 1930 the female certified public accountant was sufficiently rare to be regarded as a highly newsworthy subject wherever she appeared. Today there are more than 500 women certified public accountants in the U.S. … The American Institute of Accountants [ Editor’s note: A forerunner of the AICPA ] has communicated with the deans of the principal colleges offering accounting courses to suggest that women be encouraged to major in accounting if they are interested in the field. While no promises can be made to them, there is every reason to believe that the opportunities available to them in the accounting profession will soon be much greater than those of the recent past.”

3. “Certain problems were all but universal when women CPAs were few in number. As might be expected, the first hurdle was just securing a position. More than one woman interviewing in the late 1960s and early 1970s was told, ‘We aren’t hiring any women.’… There are accepted modes of behavior in most contexts. Fifteen years ago, however, there were few, if any, behavior codes or precedents for women in accounting. Consequently, a woman had no guidelines even in such ‘simple’ situations as who carries the audit bag and when, or if, to join a group of peers for lunch or a drink…. Management-imposed travel restrictions frequently prevented women from working on some kinds of engagements. Although many women and men today may welcome some of these restrictions, at that time they handicapped women who were unable to travel with their male counterparts. Two reasons were commonly cited for these travel limitations: (1) management generally was uncomfortable with women traveling—it was a departure from ‘normal’ behavior for women; (2) management was concerned about the feelings of wives of male staff who might disapprove of women traveling with their husbands.”

Answers: (1) 1923; (2) 1951; (3) 1984


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