The American Institute of CPAs introduced a guidebook to help accounting firms set up "off-ramping" programs to help women transition out of demanding full-time accounting careers, while maintaining a relationship so the off-ramped employees can assist the firm when needed.

The institute noted that over the course of their careers, 37 percent of professional women voluntarily leave their jobs, both temporarily and on a permanent basis. Of that group, 45 percent leave to care for small children, while 24 percent leave to care for elderly relatives.

However, with the pool of available professionals shrinking at many firms and with women increasingly becoming the majority of the available pool of candidates, accounting firms need to develop ways to help women balance their personal lives with their professional careers. Firms can still tap these off-ramped employees for future employment needs, temporary work, contract work and other opportunities.

The booklet recommends that firms supply technology to keep off-ramped employees connected via laptops, BlackBerries and other hardware so they can still access their e-mail and the firm's intranet. Firms should also offer training in the office, via conference calls and over the Web, so off-ramped CPAs can continue to obtain continuing professional education credits.

In addition, firms can provide networking opportunities for off-ramped employees, inviting them to holiday parties, departmental events and community service events to keep in touch with them. The institute suggests creating support circles for off-rampers with shared contact lists, regular conference calls and Web-based networking sites.

The booklet, "Guide to Building a Successful Off-Ramping Program," by Mary L. Bennett of Crowe Chizek and Harris Smith of Grant Thornton, is available at

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