Be the bridge: Empowering women in accounting
According to the 2018 MOVE Accounting Project Report, approximately 51 percent of the accounting workforce is made up of women. Despite embodying half of the workforce, women only represent 24 percent of partners and principals and 25 percent of management committees. There is no question that on a macro-level, this is an industry issue.
The question then becomes, “What can we as individual firms do on the micro-level to help stimulate change?” How can our firms play a role in encouraging, motivating, and empowering women to move up the ladder to the highest levels of leadership? There is no doubt that closing a 24 percent gap will be challenging; it will, however, be worth it.
Where to start
While it may be easy to look past these statistics and think, “We don’t have an issue at our firm,” you could find that opportunities for change may still be welcomed by the women in your organization. Take our firm for example: We’ve always prided ourselves on providing a welcoming and supportive environment for women. In fact, gender inequality had never really even been brought up.
However, one day some of the members of our female leadership team started chatting about all the unique experiences we have had in our long careers. Experiences that we realized were just “slightly different” from what our male coworkers typically encountered. This realization brought to light that we needed a forum for coaching our female employees about how to handle and navigate these situations. Recognizing this, our firm decided it was time to formulate a plan. We started searching for practical solutions that we could implement. A few months later, our Women’s Initiative Network was born. WIN wasn’t the result of a one-time brainstorming session; it was the culmination of collaboration, research, and stakeholder input. Don’t just look for a quick fix, invest the time to make a cultural change.
Define a purpose
The first step to take before rolling out any type of plan is to define a clear purpose. This should represent the objective you are trying to achieve. For us, our purpose was to create a company-sponsored program that would bring together the women in our firm and create opportunities and programs for personal and professional development, mentorship, and networking. This purpose will serve as the cornerstone as you move forward and help determine programming content.
It is imperative that any type of women’s empowerment program be inclusive. Your program, solutions or events should be open to all — regardless of gender, seniority, etc. Creating a culture of inclusivity will help curtail resentment, isolation, or potential pushback. Encourage every member of your team to get involved. This can be a grass-roots initiative as the program first starts and even through the first few years. Don’t hesitate to send out personal emails or call your fellow female employees to encourage them to attend upcoming events.
It is also critical to have complete buy-in from the entire leadership team. Having support from our firm’s leadership has made firm-wide acceptance possible. Not only do they promote, they participate.
In order to stimulate change and help empower women to climb the corporate ladder, we need to offer tangible solutions and experiences to assist them. We need to show that not only are women in accounting valued, but help them discover that value for themselves. Here are three ways you can help empower women across your firm:
- Educational opportunities. Offer educational events to help provide women with the tools and resources they need to succeed. Perhaps it’s a seminar on the importance of personal branding, the art of negotiation, or a panel featuring successful women from across the industry. Ask the women in your firm what they struggle with professionally and look for ways to aid them in overcoming it.
- Facilitate networking. In the business world, it often isn’t what you know, but who you know. What networking opportunities are you providing for women within your firm? Consider hosting networking events with other professionals (this can include industries outside of accounting), look for industry events to send female representatives to, and seek out speaking opportunities for female members of your leadership team. These are just a few ways you can make relationship building a priority.
- Promote causes important to women. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. If you claim empowering women is important, don’t shy away from supporting charities or events that are important to them. Consider doing a firm-wide push for breast cancer awareness month, volunteering at a local women’s shelter, or supporting other causes important to the women at your firm. These events can create opportunities for bonding and “one-on-one” coaching as you volunteer.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it will eventually occur. Once you implement a program in your firm, stick to it. Consistency is key. While the gap may at times seem unpassable, start building the bridge — one event, one opportunity, one woman at a time. Remember to celebrate your group’s accomplishments and milestones and the individual achievements of the women in your organization. Be “loud and proud” of those successes. Don’t just say you value your female employees, show it.