Plus, study author Katherine Giscombe on the interplay of gender and ethnic stereotypes


By Carol Amoruso, IMDiversity

Following a general trend within corporate America, the accounting industry finds that it can no longer afford the high cost of the high turnover of accounting and auditing professionals.  At the same time, professionals entering the field are coming from an increasingly diversified pool, mandating that, in order to retain staff, these firms provide a hospitable environment for talent representing cultures and experiences greatly divergent from the time-old white male “old boys’ club” demographic.

Catalyst, an organization supporting women’s empowerment and advancement in the workplace since 1962, has just issued a report, Women of Color in Accounting.  The report was lead-authored by Katherine Giscombe, Vice President of Women of Color Research.  It studied women of color in the field in light of their problematical intersecting identities of gender and race.

Catalyst Addresses Our Issues

The Women’s Village was able to ask Women of Color in Accounting author, Katherine Giscombe, about the individual groups of women addressed in the study:

W.V.: Although the report does not, except in a few instances, differentiate among women of color by specific ethnic backgrounds, is there an indication in the research that different demographic groups face different obstacles or opportunities for advancement in accounting?  Given the stereotype that “Asians are good with numbers,” for example, have Asian women’s experiences been more favorable than those of other women of color, such as African Americans and Latinas?

Katherine Giscombe: Catalyst’sWomen of Color in Accounting found that all women of color face barriers to advancement in the accounting industry. Although gender stereotypes are widely shared within our culture, stereotyping can also be problematic, as it tends to over-simplify reality, especially around complex social behaviors.  Previous Catalyst research shows that gender stereotyping often creates an environment where women are overlooked for top positions – regardless of the strength of their credentials. For example, Catalyst’s Advancing Asian Women in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know found that Asian women are less likely than other women of color to hold a position within three levels of the CEO or to have line or supervisory responsibilities. Furthermore, like most women of color, many Asian women feel they must overcome stereotypes to be successful. Some Asian women report that they are expected to fit a narrow range of acceptable behavior, and feel a pressure to change to fit in to their work environments.

Given that women of color make up 13.3% of all of those employed in offices of certified public accountants (according to the 2007 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “2004 EEO-1 AGGREGATE REPORT: NAICS-6 Code 541211 – Offices of Certified Public Accountants”), Catalyst believes that firms should work to further change the white, male, up-and-out culture to one that is more inclusive to women and people of color. Doing so will not only expand opportunities for women of color in the accounting industry but also allow firms to attract and retain the best and brightest in the field.

Women of Color in Accounting has come up with some key findings instructive for management, those women of color who must navigate through the industry, and for those contemplating a career in the field.  The report, it must be noted, inquired after their respondents’ perceptions and did not seek an objective measure of their employers’ performance.

The study divided the respondents into four groups for comparison: women of color, white women, men of color, white men.  Notably, women of color felt they had more in common with men of color than with white women in shared perceptions of exclusivity in the workplace and the ineffectiveness of initiatives to bolster inclusion.  In addition, women and men of color had similar perceptions of the failure on the part of management to implement and be accountable for diversity practices.

At the same time, the study found that both white and women of color shared similar perceptions of being “excluded from the ‘old boys’ social network.”  The opportunity to successfully balance work-life issues–or the ability to lead fulfilling lives in both milieus–was also seen by both groups of women as not adequately forthcoming.  White women and women of color perceived a lack of support from their employers for their family responsibilities.  Of all four responding groups, women of color demonstrated the least commitment to remaining with their employer; it was suggested that this lack of employer magnanimity may be a key reason why.


Women of Color in Accounting also found that women of color:

  • Were most likely, and in significant numbers, to perceive a dearth of women role models, and that this shortfall was a barrier to advancement
  • Reported the lowest frequency in interacting with “a wide range of people within the firm,” men in particular
  • Felt excluded from “high-visibility assignments”
  • Felt bypassed for many “professional development opportunities”
  • Significantly less so than white women, availed themselves of employer-provided childcare


In essence, the report found that women of color suffered from the “intersectionality” of belonging to two marginalized demographic groups, women and “of color,” a junction that in common parlance might be referred to as a “double whammy.”  Catalyst recommends that those in positions of leadership at accounting firms recognize the consequences of intersectionality as well as the general failure to date of inclusion initiatives.  Catalyst advises the industry to implement strict standards of accountability for those initiatives already in place.

The accounting industry’s four largest firms sponsored Women of Color in Accounting.  Catalyst believes this to be an indication that the industry is serious in its commitment to support and accommodate the diversified talent pool through vigorous change.

The full report is available at Catalyst’s website.


Carol Amoruso has had several vocational callings over the years. She’s taught young children, run volunteer programs for seniors, had a catering business, designed clothes. Ultimately, she found that nothing engaged and challenged her the way writing has. She’s written every day since childhood, professionally since 1990. Her involvement in the arts, society and politics of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Latin World have been the most inspiring and her work concentrates on those areas. She travels extensively but lives in New York City. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.