Why Women in Accounting (Yes, You) Need a Mentor
A contractor always has a tool bag at the ready. An editor likely has a red pen (or four) in their pocket at any given time. An entrepreneur always has a charged-up phone, or a portable charger at the very least, so that they can be on call whenever they’re needed. So what does a CPA need for success?
For a CPA, an invaluable tool to have is a mentor. Simply put, a mentor is someone who provides you with guidance on your career path. In reality, however, a mentor is much more than just a counselor. This is particularly true for women in finance, who make up 51% of full-time staff at CPA firms, but only make up 24% of partners and principals. Women of color especially continue to be underrepresented in accounting, with black women making up 6.4% of accountants and auditors in 2018, followed by Latinas, who make up 4.8%. With all of this said, why is a mentor so important?
Mentors offer career support to their mentees
It can be isolating to start a new career, especially one as challenging as accounting and finance. These difficulties are exacerbated when it comes to women in accounting, more so with women of color in accounting, as these are groups that are underrepresented in higher roles within the industry. But, as we've found at The Lady CPA Network, you don't have to go it alone.
With a mentor by your side, you have someone who has gone through this before. A mentor can help you get a better idea of what the day-to-day can look like as you begin and continue to move forward in your career. They can also provide you with guidance on trickier situations and obstacles you might encounter, as they've likely had to figure out these solutions themselves. A mentor will help you to improve faster within your career with fewer detours along the way, because they have the experience that you might not have under your belt just yet.
Mentors provide personal and professional development
A mentor is more than someone to frantically email when something at work has gone awry. (And it's important that you don't use a mentor or professional women's organizations solely for this!) They're someone who is actively aiding your growth inside of your career and out. This is what we ate The Lady CPA Network aspire to do. As an example, a mentor may provide you with a special project to work on in order to develop a trait or skill set of yours, like leadership or communication. They can help you to develop objectives to work towards within your own life, create routines and strategies to operate more effectively, and even ask insightful questions that could help move you towards your goals.
At this point, you might be telling yourself that you can create all of this for yourself. Why would you need another person to push you forward? A primary reason mentors, accounting networks, and professional women's organizations are so vital when it comes to your development is because they're on the outside. It can be hard to analyze your own faults and determine where you fall short, especially when you're just starting out and trying to emphasize to your peers that you do know what you're doing. A mentor offers another perspective to consider, and can pinpoint mistakes more easily than you likely can. We all have that friend who tells it like it is; a mentor is there to tell you what you need to know.
Mentors have resources that they can share
It can be pretty difficult to make it from rung to rung of your professional ladder. You might not know many people at your current firm and are finding it difficult to break into some women's social groups as a new face. There could be questions that you have that are too nuanced for Google to answer appropriately. Enter a mentor. Since they've already gone through what you are now experiencing, they have not only a wealth of knowledge, but likely also an abundance of resources.
A mentor may decide to share some of their resources with you, their mentee, provided you have the need. This could look like access to women's networking groups, entrepreneurs looking for your ideas and the skill set you have to offer, or even good books that helped them with their own development in their career. With this, however, it's important to note that a mentor/mentee relationship is not a one-way street. It's important to have more of a mutualistic dynamic with your mentor, where you both benefit from one another. If you ever come across an opportunity that seems fitting for your mentor, a contact that they may be looking for, a good read, even a cup of coffee, make sure to reach out. It's important to create a relationship that isn't entirely one-sided, and can evolve into a more long-term mentorship.
Mentors are someone you can trust
Women in accounting and finance in general may experience hardship finding people to trust, as women of color particularly are vastly underrepresented in a male-dominated industry. A mentor, however, is someone you can confide in when the going gets rough and beyond. Mentors are people you can bounce your ideas off of, both good and bad, without worrying whether that same concept will appear as someone else's the next day. They listen to your pitches without harsh judgment, but instead with constructive criticism, so that you may aim for success without as many beginner's mistakes along the way.
With a mentor, you have someone who you know has your back within your field. They won't steer you wrong or try to take credit for your successes, simply because it's not the inherent nature of the relationship you have with each other. A mentorship is a professional and personal relationship that has its foundation in uplifting one another. As this is a two-way street, you're both relying on one another for support and guidance, and should hold each other in confidence. If you can't trust your mentor, who can you trust?
The numbers don't lie
When compared to professionals who did not have mentors in their careers, those with mentors received higher compensation, a greater number of promotions, and felt more satisfied and committed to their career. Mentors themselves also benefit significantly from this relationship. When compared to people who are not mentors within their career fields, those who are mentors report greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and have greater career success.
A mentor doesn't necessarily need to be a senior in your field, but can be someone reaching mid level. A lot of people are reaching for those high-level senior executives, so by looking around at what's a little closer to you, you can begin a mentorship without having to struggle as hard in your search or deviating important time that could have been used to focus on your other goals. You can find a mentor through a form program, if your firm has one, via professional women's organizations like The Lady CPA Network, women's networking groups, accounting networks, women's social groups, or even other women in finance that could help connect you. As women in accounting, what's most important is that you're working smarter, not harder.