Tracy Gaspardo Mortenson, J.D., CPA
Director, Electronic Publishing Development-
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
Social Media: @MortensonTracy, www.linkedin.com/pub/tracy-mortenson/8/268/87a
Professional Associations: AICPA
Educational Background: J.D., Georgetown University Law Center; B.S. in Accounting, University of Illinois
Hobbies: Jogging, softball, remediation and dispute resolution for those under 10, reading, travel, coaching.
Click here to see the other honorees
of the 2012 "Most Powerful Women
in Accounting" awards.
Studies show that more women than ever are graduating with accounting degrees, but few are pursuing, or staying in, public practice careers. What do you think may be causing them to think public accounting careers are not as attractive as other careers?
I think it comes down to a few misconceptions that suggest that one’s quality of life is better outside of public accounting. First, there is a widespread belief that the first few years of life at public accounting firms are fraught with long hours and rampant travel. Second, there is an ancillary perception that these long hours are spent in windowless rooms performing less than fulfilling tasks. Women today are demanding careers which allow them to progress and succeed while also maintaining a fruitful and fulfilling life outside the office. They want to enjoy what they do, feel like they are making a difference and enjoy a healthy work-life balance.
What advice would you give to these college students about the opportunities for women in the accounting profession?
I would suggest that although the perceptions mentioned above may have had some basis twenty years ago, they are no longer well-founded. And, it is important to stress that public accounting firms today recognize the need to emphasize work life balance for all their employees – not just women – and are proactively taking steps to make sure that all career paths do not necessitate 60 hour work weeks. They are ensuring the work for junior associates is more rewarding and that burnout is not as rampant as it may have been in the past. They recognize today’s professionals are demanding more and they are committed to creating work environments which are harmonious to the needs of working mothers and fathers and more balanced for all staff.
If you were asked as a consultant to give advice to firms, would you have any recommendations on things they could do to better retain and advance more qualified female staff?
I think they need to walk the walk and then make sure the women who have succeeded within their firms are proselytizing. Young women won’t believe a bunch of male partners telling them the work-life balance issues have been addressed. They need to see and hear female managers and partners who are making it work discuss how the firm supported their careers and decisions about family. They also need to invest in technology which supports a work-from-anywhere philosophy and communicate a very clear plan to young associates that articulates how they will be supported in both their career and life aspirations.
Do you think that there is still a glass ceiling in accounting firm senior management and partner levels, or that the profession has moved to a mostly gender neutral state?
I would like to believe that we have moved to a mostly gender neutral state, but the numbers simply do not support this, do they? Female students are excelling in accounting curriculums – it is not the work itself that is repelling women - so it must be something else. I definitely believe we are on the right track and the infrastructures are in place which will support equality, but to say the glass ceiling has been completely shattered would be denying reality.
Do you think being a woman in the accounting profession has made career advancement more challenging than it might have been for a male in the same situation?