By Sarah-Jane McQueen, General Manager of the accountancy course comparison website CoursesOnline.

Accountancy is a strong sector, which is growing on an international level. Despite economic issues rooted in 2020, the industry expects to see a swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. So, how are women represented within this industry? Over the years, there has been an encouraging trend in this area but it’s not without pitfalls. Here’s a breakdown of the current state of female professionals in accounting.

Around 50% of Accounting Students are Women  

Women tend to make up approximately 50% of accounting students around the world. What’s more, in some regions, women are now surpassing men when it comes to undertaking courses of this nature. In 2020, internal data from CoursesOnline showed that of those purchasing accounting courses, 56% were female and 44% were male.

With that in mind, there is no issue when it comes to encouraging women into this particular field. The statistics speak for themselves, revealing that women have just as much appetite for the subject matter as men do. Over the years, initiatives toward gender equality in this sector have been well-placed and supporting female students in this area.

Women are Highly-Represented in Accounting 

Not only are many women studying accounting, but they are also entering the industry at a high rate. On a global level, women are highly-represented in the field of accounting.

In Canada, more than 50% of women were accountants than men in 2016, and in the United States, women and men are parity in accounting. Moreover, over in Europe, women make up more than two-thirds of professionals in accountancy and law.

These figures are encouraging. However, that is not to say that there is no problem in terms of equality in this growing and developing field. Statistics reveal that there is a significant gap when it comes to women of colour working in this sector.

That is a hurdle that has to be overcome in the years to come. Furthermore, the gender pay gap within the sector is notable and needs addressing. While women are entering this field en-mass, they are not gaining the same rewards and benefits as men.

Women of Colour are still Underrepresented

Women of colour are underrepresented in the field of finance and accounting. Back in 2018, the AICPA Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report revealed that 71% of professional staff members at CPA firms were white.

The same report showed that only 4% of employees were black while 6% were Latinx. Additionally, Asian and Pacific Islanders were the most represented people of colour, making up 17% of employees within this field.

This disparity is significant since almost half of graduates with accounting degrees were people of colour, accounting for 41% of Bachelor’s degree graduates and 46% of Master’s degree graduates.

With that in mind, the fact that people of colour, and particularly women of colour, are not proportionately represented in the field is concerning. It suggests a culture of inequality which stretches across the board within the finance and accountancy sectors. With social justice movements gathering speed, it is time for positive change.

The Gender Pay Gap in Accounting 

Despite the fact that women are proportionately well-represented in finance and accounting, there is a persisting gender pay gap. In the United States, for instance, women working as accountants or auditors earned a weekly median salary of $1,141 in 2019. On the other hand, their male counterparts earned a median salary of $1,419.

However, the tides may be set to change. Research now suggests that more than a third of CPA firms assess pay equity by both race and gender. That means that more finance companies are approaching the gender pay gap internally. Last year, the same review showed that 90% of firms have partners review the results of internal pay equity surveys. That figure is up from 74% when the review was last held back in 2014.

Despite these figures and a new trend toward counteracting pay inequality, the industry still has a long way to go. Given that women are highly represented within this sector, it is disturbing to see that there is a gulf of difference between their pay scales and that of men in the same industry. Many CPA firms have a responsibility to change their approach to this aspect of the work and conduct further reviews in the years to come.

The Takeaway 

More women than ever before are studying and working in the field of accounting. However, there is a need for significant change within this sector and its practices. Moving into the 2020s, there has to be continuous reviews of the pay scales and hiring practices of firms in this industry, should the sector aim to reach a level of just equality.