5 reasons why professional services firms should work to retain talented women

Register now

More females are enrolled in college than males, but less are enrolled when it comes to specific programs like business and accounting.

With the employment rate falling, recruiters face higher competition for good candidates. In traditionally male-dominated companies, like professional services firms (accounting, consulting, etc.), firms that offer strong recruitment and retention programs have an upper hand. It’s important to make retaining talented women a focus, especially as they climb the ladder toward leadership roles.

According to a 2015 American Institute of CPAs Firm Gender study, the number of women at the partner level is increasing—from 17 percent to 22 percent in the past six years at the 47 firms participating in the initiative. However, women still represent 20 percent of all partners at firms with 100 or more professionals.

Some firms are doing it right, recognizing keeping talented women is an advantage.

Create and encourage flexible work arrangements: They help retain talented females in the field and help them on the path to partnership. In fact, 55 percent of large-partner firms (those with 20 or more partners) report having used flexible work arrangements, and 78 percent used them as they moved up the ranks to partner (according to the AICPA).

Create equity across the board: Develop opportunities for women to have equity stake in firms. Research shows women were somewhat less likely to have equity as firm size grew, while men were as likely regardless of firm size.

Develop programs to support women: Women are evenly represented in lower- to mid-level positions, but an imbalance occurs at the leadership level. Create programs to support, mentor and retain women such as Baker Tilly’s GROW (Growth and Retention of Women), which enhances the professional development and work-life programs for all female associates at the firm. It appears to be working, as 84 percent of employees report they believe it promotes the growth and advancement of women in the firm, according to latest annual report.

Engage employees: When developing a new program, seek input from a cross-section of employees, to gather their opinions and buy-in. By engaging at the developmental level, employees feel valued having their voices heard. Don’t make the mistake of not following through on the final plan. Nothing turns employees away more than months of work groups with nothing to show for it.

Maintain a credible culture and lead by example: Think culture first and last to attract and keep the best talent in an era of an unprecedented and increasingly competitive talent environment. Pay and benefits can get a great candidate in the door, but the quality and amount of benefits and perks are irrelevant if an employee and an organization’s values don’t align. Employees will not continue to be recruited or stay at an organization where there are cultural differences. In fact, a Gallup study found that half of employees quit due to bad bosses and/or cultural fit, so starting with culture helps ensure lasting job satisfaction.

A more diverse workforce, including females in leadership roles offers benefits to employees and the firm, by providing mentors and role models for younger employees.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Recruiting Diversity and equality Practice management Work-life balance Gender issues Gender discrimination Baker Tilly US AICPA Building a Better Firm