My last three jobs before I jumped into entrepreneurship did not last longer than 18 months each. That seemed to be the consistent time frame where I got bored or was suddenly doing more work than I was compensated for. All of them were positions where my direct superior was male. I distinctly remember giving my notice at my last job. I gave them over a month and told them if they needed help beyond that until my replacement was found, I was willing to stay. My boss sort of scoffed and asked what it was that I was going to do, and before I could answer, he said, “be a stay at home mom?”.
While I was looking to explore self-employment for a more flexible schedule, the question was phrased with all the condescending “aren’t you cute” male chauvinism that you can imagine. Now, let’s not get off on the wrong foot, this is not a feminist power story, but it is a real factual recount of sexism still alive and well in our workplaces and especially in the finance industry.
When I graduated as an accounting major, I knew that I was entering a field still predominantly made up of men. Starting out, there was nothing that was going to keep me from infiltrating this boys club. I made sure I was always working the longest hours, I learned to play golf, and I even made my best effort to learn to enjoy scotch. It sounds cliché, but this is how I built a vast network in a short number of years. Despite my hard work to overcome my genetic shortcomings, it was frequent that my competence and expertise was questioned because I was young, female, and my nails were often painted cobalt blue instead of some unthreatening French manicure. Looking back now, over a decade later, as the mother to a ballsy six-year-old girl, I am honestly ashamed of myself for how hard I tried to fit the mold instead of breaking it. Even more than that, I am ashamed of the male mentors I had that went along with this instead of empowering me to grow my career just being myself.
Gender gap challenges are not unique to the accounting industry. According to a recent article from Forbes, women still only earn about half of the men globally. In the same article, it is reported that the gender gap has only closed by 2 percent. TWO PERCENT! At the risk of sounding like we need to start burning our bras, we need to do better. This is not just about women. I do not care if my daughter wants to be a rocket scientist or a stay at home mom, as long as she is happy and knows she has a choice. We are still raising our little boys to believe that the financial burden of households falls to them. On average, Forbes reported that men only do 34% of the unpaid work that women do. I do not believe this is because we have a chauvinist society. Instead, we do not empower men to feel fulfilled being at home with their families from a cultural norm standpoint.
Being a part of an organization that is challenging these norms, not just for our industry but also for the business world, makes me exceptionally proud. I want to shout it from the rooftops “there’s a better way”! Against all the arguments for why it will not work, High Rock has created a flexible work environment. It is owned entirely by entrepreneurial women. We are raising babies, providing incredible service, and even challenging how we do it. Everything about this organization challenges the norms I was brought up within public accounting. No one is working a required 80 hours a week during tax season, we are expanding globally, and we are doing it all while our kids are in the background of zoom calls. I have not put on a suit since I started, which is efficient because I am honestly more productive in jeans. I am a lot more concerned about providing our clients with excellent service than I am about the Nordstrom blazer I will wear while I am doing it.
As our industry continues to innovate, is altered by growing artificial intelligence, and is challenged by the quickly changing business landscape that 2020 has brought, I have to challenge other firms to step up to the plate. In accounting, especially, the average age of our workforce is approaching fifty. Not that we don’t love you Gen X, but unless we can start attracting Gen Z to hang around, we are all going to be running calculator tapes well past our prime because there is no one to take over. In a world expanding at the speed of light into the DIY from home entrepreneur business in a box world, accountants need to start thinking about how to challenge our industry’s norms. The gender gap in pay is just the surface. When was the last time you looked at how you are empowering your working moms? Of all the humans I have ever known, a self-motivated mother with a million plates spinning in the air is the most qualified to get sh*t done. Let’s drop the sarcasm when we ask them what their goals are.