Why Firms Must Advance Women

From the August 2011 Issue

The next generation of top accounting professionals will bear little resemblance to the male-dominated leadership ranks currently occupying corner offices, according to the recently released 2011 Accounting MOVE Project Executive Report (“2011 Executive Report”). Since over half of today’s accounting grads are women, public accounting firms must rapidly realign professional development programs to reflect the ambitions of these professionals. If they do not, firms simply cannot remain competitive and will not have enough partners for an orderly transition when baby boomers are ready to retire.

The American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA) had the privilege of partnering with strategic communication firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA), Moss Adams, and Rothstein Kass to produce The 2011 Accounting MOVE Project Executive Report. The MOVE methodology pivots on four factors — money, opportunity, vital supports for work/life balance, and entrepreneurship — proven to advance women in the workplace.

Based on dozens of interviews, reviews of best practices at 25 firms, and statistical analysis, the report provides new and compelling reasons why career advancement for women of all ages must be actively cultivated in order for accounting firms to stay competitive. The report then provides useful recommendations and best practices to recruit, retain and promote women in accounting.

The 2011 Executive Report begins with a focus on the expectations of millennial women for their careers in accounting. The research conducted regarding millennials noted that both women and men of that generation are concerned about balance between their work lives and their family/personal lives. Millennials have grown up with technology and the fast paced changes in our business climate. They are smart and innovative, but they can be impatient waiting for the next great project or promotion. As far as leadership, the report also notes that both men and women in the millennial generation already view women as business leaders and expect to see them in leadership positions at firms. A key point is that millennials assume that there is already gender equity.

The 2011 Executive Report also expands on issues addressing women in accounting introduced in the inaugural 2010 report. The following realities were presented in the report:

  • Women are pulling in new clients, even as they accelerate in the partnership pipeline, through innovative business development programs.
  • Pay equity must be validated by audits and reviews to validate women’s trust in firm leadership.
  • Firms that publicly communicate the results of their diversity programs — not just their activities — rapidly gain authority with clients, employees and potential recruits.

As this generation of professionals advances in their careers and moves into leadership roles within public accounting firms, we hope to finally see that significant shift in the numbers at the partner ranks. As reported in the 2010 Accounting MOVE Project, women still make up only 17% of partners at national accounting firms. In the meantime, it’s clear that mentoring, work/life balance issues, and flexible work environments are factors that the millennial generation is demanding in the workforce.

I encourage you to read the full report. The 2011 Accounting MOVE Project Executive Report can be found at www.ASWA.org. Also released recently and available at www.ASWA.org is the ASWA and AWSCPA’s 2011 list of the Best Accounting Firms for Women, which was based on the 2011 Accounting MOVE Project research. Firms were ranked on the range, depth and success of programs and workplace culture proven to remove barriers to women's success, especially at mid-level and above.

 

Monika P. Miles, CPA, serves as the President of the 2011-2012 ASWA National Board of Directors. Ms. Miles is the President of Labhart Miles Consulting Group in San Jose, California. Founded in 1938, ASWA provides women in accounting and finance the leadership, education and networking opportunities needed to achieve their career goals. More than seventy years later, ASWA is still the only organization that solely represents the interest of women in the entire accounting and finance community. The organization’s mission is to enable women in all accounting and related fields to achieve their full personal, professional and economic potential and to contribute to the future development of their profession. Visit www.aswa.org for more information.

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