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Firm Management

December 2017 Firm Management Channel

U.S. accounting firms that use advancement programs for promoting women to leadership positions overwhelmingly view them as effective tools in recruiting and retaining talent, according to new research by the American Institute of CPAs.

Women Mentorship Programs Help Firms Realize Greater Success

By Isaac M. O’Bannon, Managing Editor

U.S. accounting firms that use advancement programs for promoting women to leadership positions overwhelmingly view them as effective tools in recruiting and retaining talent, according to new research by the American Institute of CPAs.

Mentorship is by far the most popular advancement program, with 45 percent of firms using it, the 2017 CPA Firm Gender Survey found. Sponsorship, in which influential firm leaders take a more formal role in guiding promising employees to career opportunities, professional development and promotions, is used by 12 percent of firms.

“There are two important takeaways here: 1) firms that use these programs have seen a beneficial impact on attracting and retaining talent,” said Melissa K. Hooley, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee. “And 2) firms that are taking active steps to promote women and minorities likely will have a competitive advantage when it comes to securing talent.”

Advancement Program

Percentage of Firms Using It

Of That Group, Those Who Say It Has an Impact on Attracting or Retaining Talent







Gender Initiative



Minority Initiative



Combined Diversity & Inclusion




Women comprise nearly half of all accounting graduates entering the profession, but remain underrepresented at the partnership level and other leadership positions. The survey shows little change in this area from studies done in years past, which have typically found less than one-quarter of the partnership ranks made up of women. As was the case two years ago – the last time the CPA Firm Gender Survey was conducted – the percentage of women partners was found to be highest at smaller firms.

Firm Size

Percentage of Women Partners

Two to 10 CPAs

42% (43%*)

11 to 20 CPAs

30% (39%)

21 to 99 CPAs

26% (27%)

100+ CPAs

21% (20%)

*Results in parentheses from 2015 CPA Firm Gender Survey

Among other findings of the survey:

  • An analysis of job titles found that women maintained parity or better with men in CPA firms through the senior manager level, after which the ratio declines
  • The larger the firm, the greater the gender gap in equity ownership
  • Only 47 percent of firms have a succession plan and only two percent have a formal gender component in those plans
  • Some 89 percent of firms say they have instituted some form of modified work arrangements, with flextime and reduced hours being the most prevalent

The CPA Firm Gender Survey was conducted online by MKTG Incorporated for the AICPA’s Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee from Aug. 3 to Sept. 11, 2017. Some 492 qualified respondents, drawn from CPA firms of varying sizes and regions within the United States, participated.



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