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Jack Causa

Women in Finance: How to Enrich Your Career in an Era of Great Opportunity

More women than ever are pursuing careers in finance. Following some simple advice can help you take advantage of this tremendous growth in opportunity.

October 16, 2008
Sponsored by The Mergis Group

by Jack Causa, senior vice president and group executive, The Mergis Group

By virtually any measure, this is an era of tremendous growth in opportunities for women who wish to pursue a career in the finance industry.

For the past two decades, women have outnumbered men in both undergraduate and graduate accounting programs, and they now comprise the majority of new hires by public accounting firms. Since the mid-1990s, they have also earned between 30 percent and 40 percent of all MBAs.

This tremendous growth in the number of women in the finance pipeline is reflected in improvements at the top of the ladder as well. Approximately 20 percent of the senior finance managers at the Fortune 500 — controllers, treasurers and tax directors — are now women. And over the past decade, the number of women CFOs in the Fortune 500 has risen from 10 to 35.

So while there is obviously still much progress to be made with shattering the glass ceiling, the fact is that women in finance are enjoying an era of great career opportunity right now. What is driving this growth?

First, it's clear that many employers have observed the skills of women in accounting and finance, rejecting some of the stereotypical views that were obstacles in the past. A recent survey by CFO magazine found that 62 percent of men don't believe women to be at any disadvantage with their finance skills and only two percent believe women lack the financial skills to be elevated to CFO of a company.

Second, as the economy continues to slow and recession fears mount, more women are entering the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the women's labor force will increase by roughly 11 percent over the next several years and their projection is that women will represent 46.8 percent of the total workforce by 2014, an all-time high.

Third, employers nationwide are more willing to accommodate the lifestyle needs of their employees by offering more flexible work arrangements. These include important changes such as flextime schedules, onsite day care facilities and the option of telecommuting on certain days. These accommodations have been a boon for women in finance because they have allowed highly skilled women to remain on career tracks when they otherwise might have been forced to choose between their jobs and their families.

So in light of this era of great opportunity, here are some helpful tips for women in finance to enrich their careers:

  • Network — join a professional association such as the American Woman's Society of CPAs (AWSCPA) or the Financial Women's Association (FWA), or perhaps a local women's business networking group, where you can meet other women in finance careers, share ideas and build your network of contacts;
  • Mentoring — register with a mentoring program, which will give you the opportunity to learn from women who have gone before you and also reach out to help younger women who are trying to build their careers;
  • Education — seek out opportunities to continue and advance your professional education so that employers see you are still trying to improve your skills and knowledge base;
  • Diversify — consider learning a second language, preferably Spanish, making you better equipped for the opportunities created by the global marketplace; and
  • Technology — sharpen your technology skills and make yourself aware of what is on the cutting-edge so that you are adapting to rapid changes in the workplace.

The past decade has seen an extraordinary rise in the number of women pursuing a college education in accounting and finance, which has now triggered a significant growth in career opportunities in finance. By following some simple steps to enrich your career now, you can be better positioned to take advantage of this era of opportunity in the field.

For more information, visit The Mergis Group.

Jack Causa, CPA, is Senior Vice President and Group Executive at The Mergis Group. Causa is responsible for the management and operations of The Mergis Group, a division of Spherion that provides specialty professional recruiting and placement services across a range of professional disciplines, including finance and accounting, information technology, engineering, sales and marketing, legal and human resources. Causa has more than 25 years of experience in the professional recruiting industry and joins Spherion from Callaway Partners, a professional services firm, where he served as the partner responsible for the company's staff augmentation business. Prior to that position, Causa held leadership roles at Jefferson Wells, where he was a managing director and Kforce, where he was president of finance and accounting. He began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers.