Raise up women

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Overall, the staff at the Best Firms to Work For are 56 percent female and 44 percent male – numbers that suggest that accounting firms would do well to pay increasing attention to their women employees, and to their needs, concerns and career goals.

At smaller firms, the figure for the gender breakdown is even more compelling, with 59 percent of staff being women, and these figures track those for the profession as a whole – yet women make up only 22 percent of accounting firm partners, according to a 2017 study by the American Institute of CPAs.

Figuring out ways to raise up more women and generally pay more attention to the issues that matter to them is a serious concern for many of the 2018 Best Firms to Work For. With much of the burden of child care and household management falling on women, one common response is for the Best Firms to offer much more flexibility for staff members when it comes to leaving work for doctor appointments, school events, emergencies and other family responsibilities. They’re also alive to the needs of new parents, with 63 percent offering fully or partially-paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child, for instance. (It’s worth noting that this kind of flexibility and these types of benefits are actually available to all staff – male and female.)

When it comes to opening up the ranks of leadership, some of this year’s firms are already there. In Texas, for instance, Bland Garvey’s staff is 69 percent female – as are fully half of its partners (three out of six). And others, like Michigan’s Maner Costerisan, Nebraska’s HBE, and Minnesota’s Mahoney, Ulbrich, Christiansen & Russ have been recognized in the past by the Accounting MOVE Project for their success in being great workplaces for women.

Two critical factors for building the ranks of women leaders are making sure that high-potential women in the firm get strong mentoring, and that leadership development programs aren’t just open to women, but actively seek them out and encourage them to join in. The talent is there, but it’s well understood by now that, for many reasons, women are much less likely to envision themselves in leadership positions, and firms must take a proactive approach.

Many firms have created special initiatives or committees to help with the process, like the Women’s Networking Group at Washington’s Sweeney Conrad. In that group, “women of the firm sponsor programs (like book clubs, golf lessons, etc.) to help other women with career and personal growth.”

Activities at groups like these range from networking, mentoring and sharing best practices for success, to the golf clinic set up by the Women’s Leadership Committee at Washington’s Berntson Porter (being able to golf is a surprisingly valuable skill for both business development and client management), to bringing in an outside speaker, as Arizona’s BeachFleischman did, in an event that drew in over 60 women.

And as a valuable reminder that inspiration can be as important as seminars and flexible scheduling, we’ll note that the Kaufman Rossin Empowering Women diversity committee, or KREW, at Miami-based Kaufman Rossin made a point of “celebrating female strength and leadership with special screenings of Wonder Woman.”

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