With all the talk about attracting and retaining talent in our profession, there may be a solution that's as close as your office. In fact, it's inside your office. Helping women CPAs realize their rainmaking potential motivates them to "be all that they can be," while contributing to your firm's growth.What's the problem?

Although 57 percent of today's accounting graduates are women, only 10 percent to 15 percent of firm partners are female. At recent conferences, including senior-level gatherings such as Winning Is Everything and Management Summit, the audiences were overwhelmingly male.

One speaker noted that the average male member of the American Institute of CPAs is 50 years old; the average female AICPA member is 40 years old. If we're to optimize our natural resources, bringing the numbers more closely in line will be one of our most pressing challenges over the next decade.

Several obstacles stand between women CPAs and the corner office.

One that we've observed while conducting women rainmaker workshops is a cultural bias - too often embraced by women themselves - that suggests that they don't have what it takes to become rainmakers. Many women in the field are well-educated and experienced, yet simply do not perceive themselves as rainmakers.

Some may lack the vision - and the role model - of a life that combines a hard-charging career with a fulfilling role as a wife and mother. Because they don't have the advantage of mirroring others, they have to figure it out for themselves. Some succeed, while others do not.

Another stumbling block is our professional culture. Driven by hourly billing, accounting firms have not traditionally been conducive to flexible work arrangements. If we are to solve our persistent staffing shortages, this issue will need to be addressed with much more creativity. Instead of each request for non-standard work hours being handled as a "one-off" exception, we need to re-engineer the firm from the ground up, so that this is seen as the norm.

Impressive examples of progress in this area of organizational culture can be seen in academia, corporate America and the federal government. In these environments, creative scheduling and staffing solutions are commonplace.

One example is a performance approach, as suggested by one of the panel consultants at the recent Management Summit Conference. Rather than mandate that a CPA work 30 hours, give her a set of clients and require that she maintain client satisfaction and grow revenue. Measure her success not against hours billed, but against benchmarks that are aligned with the firm's goals.

Skills required

In order to create a class of female leaders, partners must change the culture and structure of their workplaces. In addition, women must develop and hone specific skills. Most important among them:

* Networking. In the past, there were few women with whom to network. At the same time, many women never "got the memo" that networking is important. The results of connecting with colleagues in our field, and in others, can be huge. Women aren't used to networking, yet need to learn this fundamental, critical skill.

* Invite. Women are often less comfortable than men at initiating contact and inviting others to meet with them. But that's exactly what's required to become a rainmaker. They need to put aside traditional thinking and practice being the initiator.

* Exude. Exuding confidence is half the battle, sometimes even more. Women tend to be more reserved, with less braggadocio than their male counterparts. But buyers like confident professionals and want to feel that they're in league with the best. It doesn't matter if you feel confident. You need to exude it anyway.

A dose of the college acting class my son is attending could do wonders here!

Establishing credibility

There's no substitute for knowing what you're doing, and knowing that you know. Capability breeds credibility - both technically and with rainmaking.

Perfecting rainmaking skills takes work. Women who wish to make rain need training beyond what their formal education and workplace experience can provide. At a minimum, a woman should be reading a rainmaking book at all times. When sharp skills combine with a workplace environment that is conducive to their success, the result can be female rainmaking at its best.

Women like Hilda Polanco and others prove the point. Hilda is partner-in-charge of Fiscal Management Associates, a part of the ERE family - a New York CPA firm. She has taken FMA from start-up to 15 professionals, and is the epitome of a top-notch woman rainmaker. If we do this right, more role models like her will populate the landscape of tomorrow's CPA firms, and we'll truly make the most of our natural resources.

Gale Crosley, CPA is the founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), and has consulted with over 100 CPA firms on practice growth issues and opportunities. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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