"We have to banish complacency and embrace change so we can awaken the power of women in our firms."

Spoken like a true pioneer, these were words spoken by Rita Keller, president and founder of Keller Advisors in Beavercreek, Ohio. Keller was facilitating a session called, "A New Day for Women in Public Accounting," as part of The Forum for Women in Accounting held in Las Vegas.

"Success breeds complacency," Keller said. "Partners have been comfortable, clients were calling us, we didn't have to market. We became order takers."

Meanwhile, the Gen Xers and Millennials are saying, "I think we have a couple of partners who need to go."

Keller, who recently "observed" 30 years in the accounting profession, said if you fill up your firm with career managers, young people will leave because there is no place for them to go. She also talked about the business case for developing women leaders:


  • Gives us the ability to attract and retain high performers.
  • Makes the firm attractive to even more high-caliber women.
  • Promotes diversity of thought and style.
  • Provides a larger pool of leadership talent.
  • Strengthens firm culture.
  • Develops future rainmakers.
  • Provides for firm succession.

"The next generation in many firms are female," she said.
Sixty percent of all accounting graduates are women, 45 percent of accounting staff are women and 23 percent of partners are women. That last statistic has increased - just two years ago it was at 19 percent.

She said female CPA partners are often fighting the "sandwich generation." Meaning, many women are taking care of partners (sometimes doing their work) and training Millennials - at the same time.

Keller said many women need to take on male characteristics in order to get ahead - for instance, speak out, speak up, toot their own horn, don't expect to make friends with everyone, take risks and sit at the table during a meeting- literally.

Many lists were offered during her presentation - one of the most entertaining was one describing things men can do that women can't:

  • They can cry, you can't.
  • They can fidget, you can't.
  • They can yell, you can't.
  • They can have sex, you can't.
  • They can have bad manners, you can't.
  • They can be ugly, you can't.

Keller offered ways firms can help women overcome obstacles for those seeking higher leadership positions:

  • Provide flexibility.
  • Provide part-time positions (both permanent and temporary).
  • Don't ask for 40 plus hours in a cubicle.
  • Focus on mentoring.
  • Be open about opportunities.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Provide trainers.
  • Leaders learn by leading.
  • Increase responsibility.

Keller said young people coming into firms today have the same issues as working moms - they don't want to work to live, they want to have a life.
"Young people watch leaders," she said. "You've got to set a good example."