Women in Accounting – by Deborah Levine

This article in our Women in Technology series features women in accounting professions. A discussion group was pulled together with the assistance of ADR advisor, Larry Stone, who is then  Director of Professional Development for Decosimo Accountants and Business Advisors, commonly known simply as “Decosimo”. Larry has deep roots in the Chattanooga area and serves on the Professional Development Committee of the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants (TSCPA). The group of women that he assembled represent diverse professional and generational perspectives. They shared their insights on STEM education, careers, and work-life challenges …

Dialogue Participants:
— Sharon Hamrick: Director of Litigation Support for Decosimo Advisory Services. Focus: commercial litigation support and forensic accounting related to corporate fraud.
— Shannon Farr: Director of Valuation Services. Focus: litigation support and business valuation connected to purchase & sale transactions and shareholder disputes.
— Kim Bales: Tax Principal in Charge. Focus: tax planning including organization restructuring and tax compliance.
— Nicole Gossett: Valuation Services Manager for Decosimo Advisory Services. Focus: healthcare; is a member of the American Health Lawyers Association.
— Shelton Swafford Chambers: Tax Manager. Focus: estate planning serving trusts, tax-exempt and not-for-profit organizations; is a CPA and licensed attorney.
— Caroline Hill: Staff Accountant. Focus: auditing various industries including investment partnerships, manufacturing, and healthcare; is relatively new on staff (January 2013).

Larry prefaced the discussion by explaining that twenty years ago, there were several CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) on staff but the majority of women in the firm were in support positions. Today, most CPAs are female. While this year is an exception, there have more females than males among new staff for the past five years. In addition, all of the discussion participants have competencies beyond the math that the general public assumes in “bean counters.” Yet, their career path has not always been an easy one.

Shannon Farr shared that she was the first female partner at a former firm. Sharon Hamrick shared that she was also the first female to achieve her professional level. Kim Bales joined the firm more than twenty years ago when the corporate culture was akin to the TV show Mad Men where women served the coffee. However, with the encouragement of a female mentor/boss, she eventually became the second female partner in the tax department.

The management of hours and of work-life challenges was a major issue in the discussion. Many of the participants worked reduced hours until tax season. The long hours required during tax season are hard on families and the divorce rate appears to be quite high. These women professionals are often the bread winners, but still have family pressure to be home. They were disappointed and disturbed by the recent loss of a female super star in the firm who resigned because her family wanted her to spend more time at home. There followed very personal discussions of how each managed work-life issues. The generous flex-time policies and availability of communication technology were key to their work-life efforts, raising the question of what else might be done, including onsite daycare.

When the discussion turned to leadership roles, the statistics illustrated a challenge that is nation-wide. AICPA: 23% of accounting professionals in leadership roles are female. There are about 20% women equity partners in the firm. When asked why only this modest percentage of women are in leadership, all agreed that a supportive family was essential, but that success also required an assertive personality. There was considerable concern that upcoming generations have a tendency to shy away from being assertive.

Regardless of personalities, the participants noted that the retirement of Baby Boomers will mean more women in leadership. While some of the women felt that the women-are-secretaries response still exists, the experience of the newer members of the staff has largely been of women bosses, managers, and partners. The opportunities for them at the firm appear ‘wide-ranging. A key element in developing women in leadership roles has been and will continue to be the influence of other women in leadership. The substantial impact of their own female mentors and models was leaders was evident in numerous expressions of gratitude. Growing a network to assist women considering leadership options and giving them confidence to pursue them was an underlying theme of the discussion.

Following the general discussion, the participants were asked to 1. List the soft skills that have given them an edge in their business. 2. Share advice based on what they would have done differently in their careers and what they did do that others might copy.


  1. accessibility
  2. analytical/ thoughtful
  3. assertive
  4. client-oriented
  5. compassion
  6. considerate to staff
  7. creative
  8. empathy
  9. engaging personality
  10. driven
  11. good listener
  12. hard-working
  13. measured
  14. mentoring /teaching
  15. multitasking
  16. patience
  17. personable
  18. questioning/ investigatory
  19. responsiveness
  20. task oriented


  1. I didn’t have a mentor which meant that I had to make a lot of decisions on my own without much guidance.
  2. I would have gotten more advanced degrees.
  3. I would have requested feedback and suggestions on how to progress my career more rapidly.
  4. When I left my previous employer, I wish I had gone to management and shared my concerns, such as the travel schedule, instead of simply leaving.


  1. After my first child was born, and I came back after maternity leave, I went to a four day week outside of the busy season. I was afraid this would start my career, but I was promoted to partner anyway.
  2. I returned after staying home with babies number two and three.
  3. I exposed myself to things that stretched me such as public speaking and that gave me exposure to the decision makers in my progression.
  4. I had the ”umph” to always want the best situation for our clients.
  5. I would put off having children until you have about five years experience. This would reduce the stress on home life.
  6. I would exercise and keep physically fit.
  7. I did not listen to stereotypes or people who didn’t believe in me.
  8. I kept a clear focus on my goals.
  9. I got as much education as I could.
  10. I kept in touch with and fostered my relationship with mentors.
  11. I married someone who encouraged my profession and picks up the slack during busy season.
  12. I was willing to relocate for my career.

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