"Women have been in the profession in equal numbers to men for more than 20 years, yet women represent just 19 percent of the U.S. public accounting shareholder/partner population."
This is just one statistic recently found in "The Attraction, Retention and Advancement of Women Leaders: Strategies for Organizational Sustainability," a report released in October by the American Institute of CPAs' Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, which argues that organizations that prepare themselves for the attraction, retention and development of all talent pools can gain an advantage over their competition.
Part-time and full-time flexibility programs within many firms have beefed up the number of female senior managers and female managers to 43 percent in 2004, compared to 26 percent of senior managers and 35 percent of managers in 1993. The report, however, said turnover or stagnation of these managers is still apparent as they approach higher levels, or directors and owners.
Uneven access to career advocacy and development, lack of female role models and career/life integration challenges are often not in alignment with traditional career trajectories, according to Mary L. Bennett, a member of the committee and the author of the report. She said these barriers are most often the result of organizational evolution that has not kept pace with the workforce. The barriers are not obvious to many leaders.
"Until senior leaders raise awareness about the issues, communicate accurately about the business case for targeted efforts on these barriers, and put strategies in place to impact on multiple levels, it is difficult to accelerate progress," Bennett said.
The Women's Initiatives Executive Committee offers these strategies for organizational change:
* Understanding of and buy-in to the business case;
* Tie initiatives to the firm's strategy and goals;
* Top-down leadership support (CEO, chairman and managing partner levels);
* Geographic and/or functional leadership involvement;
* Strategy, action plans, measurements and accountability;
* Increased organizational awareness and education about barriers and success factors.
The committee also offers strategies at the individual level:
* Advocates who offer organizational awareness, political navigation and appropriate opportunities;
* Mentors, coaches and leaders who are committed to change;
* Networking opportunities;
* Visible female role models;
* Support for customized integration of multiple life commitments.
"Once the business case is truly understood and firms realize that this is a business sustainability issue, the need to move forward in a strategic manner is obvious," Bennett said.
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