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The pay gap between women accountants and auditors and their male colleagues is among the largest of any profession in the United States, a new report says.
Like other high-paying professions, such as finance or medicine, accounting has fewer women in leadership roles earning high salaries, effectively pushing down the median pay.
“Higher paying professional fields sadly have larger gaps,” said Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women.
Women who are accountants and auditors earned $17 billion less than their male colleagues in 2017, according to the association’s annual gender pay gap report released Oct. 23.
The profession has slowly made gains in retaining and promoting women. But as women advance through the ranks, it is unclear what type of assignments they take on, especially at accounting firms. Handling less lucrative, less demanding assignments than other senior staff or partners could result in lower pay than men with the same title.
Elizabeth Almer, professor of accounting at Portland State University, wants the firms to dig into the salaries of its employees and partners to find out.
“They have made tremendous investments and tremendous strides in terms of retention and advancement of women,” Almer told Bloomberg Tax. “But we don’t have good data regarding whether these efforts have been successful from a pay perspective.”
Nationwide, women generally earn on average 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, a figure largely unchanged from the previous year, according to the association’s report, which is based on 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Occupations with the greatest pay disparity also were largely unchanged, Churches told Bloomberg Tax.
Financial managers top the list followed by physicians and surgeons, accountants and auditors, retail supervisors, and registered nurses, according to the report.
A lack of women in leadership positions, reduced lifetime earnings for mothers—better known as the motherhood penalty—extended work days, and direct pay discrimination all contribute to wage disparities, Churches said.
Partner selection methods—requiring certain thresholds for engagement fees or billable hours—and long, inflexible work schedules tend to slow women’s upward mobility and income growth, Churches said.
But many accounting firms are beginning to reconsider what Churches called outdated, patriarchal business models. “How do we fundamentally change our business model now to ensure that we’re attracting the labor force of today and tomorrow?” she said.
Long, inflexible work days and tight deadlines are the cultural norm for auditors and accountants, and harder to change, Almer said. “There’s a bit machismo in the business,” she said."This is just what we do, these are the hours that we work.”
Accounting firms are making progress on the leadership front as more women become partners. Still, 78 percent of partners across the industry are men, according to the American Institute of CPAs, which has been working to support the advancement of women to leadership in recent years.
The largest four public accounting firms dominate the industry and have been working to boost retention and promotion of women for years.
Deloitte LLP has joined an Employers for Pay Equity Consortium. And the Big Four firms also support and even lead various entities that focus on diversity and inclusion, including pay parity initiatives.
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