Despite More Accounting Degrees Women Lag in Pay, Promotion

For decades, more women graduated with degrees in accounting – at the bachelor’s and master’s level – than men. Since 1992, when the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics started tracking degrees, women made up from 54% to 60% of accounting graduates, with the only exception being doctorate degrees where men dominated.

Despite more women holding degrees in accounting, men receive higher pay, make up a larger percentage of employees at CPA firms, have more partnerships and hold more CPA certifications.

Organizations in the accounting industry are keenly aware of these discrepancies and are working to bring women to a more equal standing in the accounting field.

The Gaps

While women hold more accounting degrees, men command higher salaries in accounting. A 2014 survey from the Institute of Management Accountants showed women regardless of age had an average base salary of about 83% of their male co-workers in the same age groups.

However, the pay difference is the smallest for women in the 19-29 age range, which the institute said may indicate a small shift in the pay gap.

Not only are women paid less on average, CPA firms in 2012 expected to hire a larger percentage of men than women. The most recent report by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) issued in 2013, showed hiring at CPA firms was expected to be 53% male.

The percentage showed a slight improvement compared to the breakdown between men and women already working at the firms. The report showed existing employment was 56% male.

The AICPA report also showed roughly 60% of certified public accountants are men.

Partnership Challenges

In accounting, job advancement is one of the biggest issues women face. Once hired, many women never advance into partnerships or upper management roles.

The AICPA said while 56% of firms’ staff were men, they accounted for 81% of firms’ partners. That is the same ratio found at law firms.

A CBS News article said the lack of upward mobility for women can push them into other positions. Also, there is tremendous pressure to bring in major clients, especially when making the leap from management to partnerships.

The AICPA said some other factors work against women making it into the partnership ranks:

  • Fewer women in top positions mean fewer women are able to advocate and sponsor other women into higher ranks.
  • There also are fewer women in the top ranks to act as role models for younger women in the firms.
  • The struggle to balance family and work can hold women back.

Programs to Help

Professional organizations exist to help women achieve parity in the accounting field.


Explore Programs