[IMGCAP(1)] As I spend time with CPA firms and learn about their approaches to developing their talent, exceptional programs rise to the top. One program that comes to mind is WIN@CG, Clifton Gunderson’s women’s initiative. This award-winning, results-oriented platform is worthy of emulation.

In this column, Clifton Gunderson partner and initiative co-chair Rick Goldenson answered questions about the effort.

What was the impetus behind WIN@CG? 

The business case is clear, not only within the firm, but within the profession. By 2006, 60 percent of all students enrolling in accounting programs were women. A women’s initiative will help us recruit and retain female employees (especially at leadership levels), build for the future of our firm and expand client resources.

We also recognize that clients increasingly reflect the growing number of female-owned businesses.  Many seek to work with female CPAs and staff.  Others want to know that we understand their challenges and concerns.  Our mission statement, “to grow women leaders,” really captures our intent.

How does a male perspective add value?

Having both men and women involved in the program is essential, as the end product ultimately will benefit everyone. Also, the involvement of me and other men helps identify the important differences and commonalities we share.  It’s also helped dispel some initial misunderstanding that this is a program to advance people based on gender. In fact, its purpose is to ensure that barriers are removed that allow employees, especially women, to continue their employment with the firm. I was attracted to the program because it helps establish us as a firm of choice for both males and females looking for an innovative/progressive CPA firm.

What were the initial steps in launching WIN@CG?

We introduced the initiative in May 2008 after working for much of the previous year. In the fall of 2008 we released an internal survey designed to assess gender-focused initiatives and employee perceptions of them. An 87 percent response rate provided invaluable feedback and recommendations for improvement. In April 2008, we were honored to have you facilitate a one-day session on gender initiatives with representatives from offices across the firm. The group came away from that session with an action plan ready for implementation.  

We then worked to develop mission and vision statements to direct our activities. The vision states that we seek to be a gender-neutral firm where flexibility is embraced by leaders, while continuing to meet our overall client service, career development and staffing objectives.

Key communications included an internal announcement followed by a firm-wide WIN@CG webinar hosted by my co-chair Sheryl Pannell and myself.  

What are the next steps as you move into the program’s second year?

A pilot program was developed and launched in our Client Service Centers in the Mid-Atlantic and Rocky Mountain regions. Using our survey results, we worked closely with leaders at both locations to assess policies and procedures and establish best practices.  Information gathered during the pilot programs and results from the firm-wide survey will be analyzed, altered as necessary, and implemented firm-wide.

With your CEO Kris McMasters as the first female chief executive of a top-25 accounting firm, you obviously have significant management support for the effort…

That’s true.  Kris has certainly helped put CG in the spotlight with respect to women’s initiatives. We’re especially proud that she was named Innovator of the Year at the 2008 Forum for Women in Accounting. Kris embodies our belief that the best person for the job is the one who should hold it. Kris is passionate about our Women’s Initiative which further highlights our firm’s commitment to creating a progressive environment that enriches the conditions in the firm for females, provides business and personal development skills to help them advance their careers, while also guiding them on elevating their contributions to our clients’ success.   

Gale Crosley, CPA is founder and principal of Crosley + Company, providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms.  Visit her Web site at www.crosleycompany.com or contact her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.