I recently sat down with Sandra B. Richtermeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA and IMA Chair-Emeritus for the 2011 – 2012 fiscal year, to talk management accounting. In her day job, Sandra is chair of the Department of Accountancy in the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jeff Thomson: 25 years have passed since the American Accounting Association released the Bedford report, which called for major adjustments in accounting education curriculum to bridge the gap between what is taught in the classroom and on the job skills necessary for success.
What gaps still exist between what accounting educators teach and what CFOs need from their finance teams?
Sandra Richtermeyer: Some may say that accounting curricula is largely focused on preparing our students for careers in public accounting, which is very important. However, I get concerned that students do not receive as much preparation for management accounting roles inside organizations, where they will be working in functionally specific accounting and finance positions where they need an enterprise-wide lens.
JT: What can educators do to help address this gap in undergraduate and MBA programs?
SR: Educators need to understand what the profession actually looks like in terms of key areas where accountants are employed. At IMA, we often look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data to gain a comprehensive understanding about the roles and sectors where accounting professionals work, whether it’s in public accounting, industry, internal audit, etc.
For example, more than 80 percent of accountants in the U.S. work in roles inside organizations, involving activities such as decision support, planning, control, technology enablement and risk management. It’s important for educators to understand the wide scope available to accounting students. Educators also must get a sense of the opportunities that exist for accountants in corporate America and in small- and medium-sized businesses. They can help raise student awareness regarding these opportunities as well.
JT: Given this preparation gap, what can CFOs do to help address it?
SR: CFOs can start by clearly articulating the technical accounting skills as well as general business training necessary for various levels of accounting roles. They can help by providing benchmarks about career readiness and expectations based on different accounting positions. It will help both education and practice if we have basic descriptions of typical job responsibilities over an individual’s entire career continuum. This includes recent graduates to CFOs, and everything in between.
JT: Why is professional development important in honing these skills?
SR: Our profession is very complex and constantly changing, and we have new demands thrown at us all the time. Our professional development needs can be vast. It’s important for accounting professionals to create their own plan to guide them through each stage of their career and not have others take responsibility for it.
It’s also important to have short- and long-term professional growth plans. A short-term plan may be one year and the long-term plan could be five. The long term plan could also have plan A, B, and C in case something doesn’t go according to schedule, but I think it’s very important for accounting professionals to sit down, map out their goals, and create a professional development profile that will keep them on track.
If you have your organization take charge of your development plan, that will certainly help while you’re at that organization, but if you need to leave, change jobs, or choose to expand and grow in other areas, you really need to rely on your own plan that you’ve created yourself.
Also, I believe that professionals should share their plan with their respective support networks, whether that be their families, mentors or both. Particularly, as we hear about increasing levels of concern related to work/life balance for women in accounting, it is important for professionals to share their personal goals so that that they can receive the right level of encouragement and support along the way.
JT: Why are women underrepresented in the CFO role within organizations?
SR: There are many facets to understanding this reality; however, I believe that a large part is due to challenges with work/life balance. Particularly for women who choose to have families, it can be difficult to maintain steady growth in one’s career path during the years they have school-age children to raise.
Often times, early in an accounting professional’s career, they are asked to work very long hours and this leaves very little room for other things in their life. This issue is very challenging to reconcile as they decide whether or not they want to start a family. As they plan ahead, they wonder how to fit a family into a 50- to 70-hour work week. Although many organizations make claims that they support employees in their work/life balance goals, it can be hard for many professionals to see this work. Additionally, they often do not have role models who can help them integrate a career and a family.
JT: What actionable steps can senior accounting executives take to maintain better work/life balance, particularly for women?
SR: The profession is realizing that there is a deficit in work/life balance. Accountants are always busy. We have deadlines to manage and our professional life centers around meeting deadlines, and I think that accounting can really lose its appeal when you constantly see yourself managing deadline to deadline and taking care of your personal and family life at the same time.
In today’s society, the definition of family can be quite broad but if you have a solid family foundation, however that’s defined personally, that can provide a really solid base for a very successful career.
This column offers CFOs, and their teams, insights and ideas related to challenges of the position, in light of market demands and global economic conditions. Jeffrey C. Thomson, CMA, is president and CEO of IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), one of the largest and most respected associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. Follow IMA on Twitter and visit IMA’s YouTube channel.
By Jeff Thomson, CMA. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffthomson/2012/12/07/how-cfos-can-bridge-the-accounting-skills-gap/