In the early years of accounting, men dominated the industry. For the few women that trickled in as decades passed, skirts—mandatory in the office—served as a reminder of the divide and the giant strides that would have to be made for equality.
Thanks to perseverance and dedication, women quickly broke the mold.
At Eide Bailly specifically, early leaders recognized the benefit in having women present in the workplace. Hiring women changed how the firm operated. In order to retain women past the senior associate level and to level the playing field, the firm has implemented a First Focus program that focuses on women in the workplace. Today, more than half our hires are women and 30 percent of our partners are female.
Like any profession—despite great strides—women still face day-to-day challenges. But thanks to a positive environment and unwavering support, females at Eide Bailly are empowered to not only overcome barriers but to rise above and conquer them, setting an example for those who follow in their footsteps.
10 Challenges and Powerful Solutions
1. Leveraging Technology
The business world today relies heavily on technology. Not only are systems and work papers accessible from anywhere, technology allows firms to collaborate across offices and beyond. For many women in the industry, it’s this very technology that has helped them advance in their careers.
Eide Bailly embraces technology, knowing it gives women in the firm the flexibility they need to balance their work and home life, thereby empowering them to flourish professionally.
According to Fargo, N.D., Partner Shannon Breuer, the key to balance is the ability to leverage the technology Eide Bailly provides.
"I couldn't get through a tax season without technology," Shannon says. "I leave every day at 5:30 p.m. to get home and spend time over dinner with my daughter. Technology allows me to get a few more hours of work in after she goes to bed.”
2. Empowering Self-Promotion
In any industry, it’s important that employees connect with the right people—people who get to know their abilities and aspirations, creating a support system that keeps an eye out for opportunities that will help them to grow and succeed. Some people have strong advocates who do this for them, but the majority of people must promote themselves.
For women in accounting, it may feel unnatural to own one’s strengths, but it’s imperative in climbing the ladder to success.
In order to promote herself, Fargo, N.D., Partner Jenni Huotari says she constantly looks for opportunities and confidently asks for them.
“This is not something I do naturally, but I realize the importance of taking advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself,” Jenni says. “It would be easy to wait for someone to ask you to manage that job or take that leadership role, but the truth is not everyone is familiar with you. Make sure the right people know what you want to work on and where you see yourself in a year or in five years.”
3. Utilizing Support Systems
Support systems come in all shapes and sizes, from a network of reliable co-workers to neighbors and family members. For women in any career, creating an individualized support system is important and critical to success.
According to Minneapolis Partner Kim Hunwardsen her friends are her lifeline.
"My friends told me, 'You don't have to be home right at 4:30 p.m., your kids can come to our house,'” Kim says. “We have a plan now that gives me more flexibility (and less stress) as to when I leave the office. I can finish that phone call or client meeting, and know my kids are safe and in great hands."
4. Eliminating Guilt
Throughout history, women have served as the primary caregivers for their families, even when women entered the workforce in droves back in the early ‘80s. Because of this “natural role,” many women feel they can't have a career and be a good wife and mother.
At Eide Bailly, that isn’t the case. Denver Colo. Senior Manager Shauna Shafer was told by a female colleague at another firm, "You can't have it all." Looking for more balance, Shauna left public accounting, but she quickly grew to miss her clients and the work.
"It's not always greener on the other side," Shauna says.
In time, she worked out a plan with the firm and her husband to make it work.
"Don't feel guilty that you like your job,” she says. “It will make you a better mother, a better wife and a better person. Family can still be a priority, but you have a right to a career you love."
5. Developing Technical Skills
Eide Bailly places high importance on technical training because as staff improve their skill sets, they become even more valuable to their clients. At Eide Bailly, women recognize that promotions are directly correlated with competency and skill development.
“We’re in a state now where technology transforms our lives on nearly a daily basis," Partner Jenni Huotari from Fargo says. "That transformation is happening in our personal as well as business lives. In order to remain relevant and effective to our clients, we need to be on top of the latest technology that could benefit them and enhance the services we provide.”
Knowing this, Huotari has focused on developing her technical skills around integrating technology components within clients’ businesses and automating accounting functions previously done by humans, but which are now performed by artificial intelligence.
6. Making Public Accounting Work
Many factors play into making an accounting career work. For some women, it’s understanding the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. For others, it’s discovering what they truly want out of their career or creating a flexible work schedule that fits their lifestyle.
Barb Aasen, Bismarck, N.D., partner-in-charge, says that being a good mom was drilled into her.
"I worked long hours and once my children were born, I knew I couldn't have both, so I left public accounting to work in private business," she says.
But Barb soon missed the work, the clients and the flexibility.
"The firm wanted me back and I really wanted to make it happen. My husband and I had a heart-to-heart talk and we figured out what we both wanted and how we could make it work with our family."
Based on her personal experience, Barb encourages other women to figure out what they want and how they can get there… and know they don’t have to do it alone.
7. Setting Boundaries
Honest and open communication with managers and peers can create a more positive and supportive work environment that meets both the employee's and the firm’s needs. Eide Bailly encourages women to draw a line that’s comfortable for them.
Oklahoma City Partner Amber Tyler decided early on that she would excel with a more traditional work schedule.
"I talked to management early in my career about limiting my overtime,” she says. “I appreciate my schedule. My peers are respectful of my hours, knowing that I will work extra hours when needed to get the job done.”
8. Integrating Work and Home Life
Everyone knows there are only so many hours in a day. In order to accomplish everything, Eide Bailly acknowledges that women must set priorities and manage the demands placed on them at work.
For Shauna Shafer, the priority is to make it home in time for dinner.
"Family is a priority, but work is, too," she says. “I have found ways to incorporate the two, including choosing to serve on boards where my children can help with events and fundraising."
9. Creating Balance
Each individual takes on different roles and responsibilities both at work and at home. It stems from the way they were raised, family dynamics and—sometimes—simply out of pure need. Creating proper balance is not only good for physical and mental health, it has helped professionals at Eide Bailly move up the ranks.
Barb Aasen says she makes sure to spend quality time with her kids.
"I plan ahead. I talk to the people I am working with so the entire team knows how we will get the work done and meet the clients' needs,” she says. “People are great and very respectful of my time off. But accountability and communication is critical."
10. Finding Female Mentors
It’s true: strong female mentors can speak to and offer clarity surrounding the perceived expectations in the accounting industry. Eide Bailly recognizes a career without guidance is much like traveling without a map, which is why they created First Focus to improve the advancement of women and ensure female career opportunities parallel those for men.
In getting together, the firm’s female employees share valuable feedback, lessons learned and honest advice that helps their peers grow and collectively make the firm a stronger organization.
While there will always be challenges and unintentional biases in the industry, women’s initiatives have helped to facilitate discussion and awareness to push toward more understanding.
Women’s presence in the profession has come a long way since 1899, when Christine Ross became the first certified female accountant in the United States. Over time, women in the industry have continued to overcome hurdles both big and small—no matter what they were wearing while they did it.