"Women have been in the profession in equal numbers to men for more than 20 years, yet women represent just 19 percent of the U.S. public accounting shareholder/partner population," reads just one statistic in "The Attraction, Retention and Advancement of Women Leaders: Strategies for Organizational Sustainability, a report released in October by the AICPAs' Women's Initiatives Executive Committee.Part- and full-time flexibility programs within many accounting firms have beefed up the number of female senior managers and female managers. The report added that turnover or stagnation of these managers is still apparent as they approach higher levels or directors and owners.

Uneven access to career advocacy/development, lack of female role models, and career/life integration challenges often not in alignment with traditional career trajectories continue to hamper women's progress, according to Mary Bennett, committee member and author of the report.

She says these barriers are most often the result of organizational evolution that hasn't kept pace with the workforce and isn't obvious to many leaders. An openness to diversity is also key.

The committee offers these strategies for organizational change: understanding of and buy-in to the business case; tying initiatives to the firm's strategy and goals; top-down leadership support (CEO, chairman, and managing partner levels); geographic and/or functional leadership involvement; strategy, action plans, measurements, and accountability; and increased organizational awareness and education about barriers and success factors.

The committee also offers strategies at the individual level: advocates who offer organizational awareness, political navigation, and appropriate opportunities; mentors, coaches, and leaders committed to change; networking opportunities; visible female role models; and support for customized integration of multiple life commitments.