By Joanne Cleaver, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Accounting MOVE Project
It’s starting to happen.
The cracks in the CPA profession’s glass ceiling are more than stress fractures: resistance is cracking at the highest levels. The 2017 Accounting MOVE Project found that, in aggregate, women comprise 24% of the management committees at the 49 firms that participated in the annual benchmarking project. That’s up from 21% last year.
And women now comprise 24% of partners and principals, a single percentage point increase from last year, continuing the steady increase since 2012’s 17%.
Meanwhile, women comprise 46% of senior managers – a level that has held about steady for the past two years, but that also reflects a significant improvement from 2012’s 40%.
A number of major firms are within striking distance of a key pivot point: 33% women partners and principals. Numerous academic and practitioner studies indicate that when women are about a third of any group, dynamics shift so that they can freely participate on their own terms – not as a gender representative. Meanwhile, several regional and large national firms have seized the lead, rocketing past the 33% milestone. Among them: BeachFleischman, Novogradac, MCM Advisors, The Bonadio Group, and Clark Nuber. These firms join others, all with outstanding momentum in advancing women and in evolving programs that measureably advance women, on the 2017 Accounting MOVE Project Best Firms list. The list was released in early June by the AFWA and AWSCPA.
The MOVE Project is designed and managed by Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., a content and communication firm that specializes in projects that advance women in the workplace. Through a 100-question survey and through over 100 phone and in-person interviews, the MOVE team detected several trends that are accelerating the advancement of women at firms:
In “Pipeline to Finish Line,” the MOVE team explored and reported on the what’s working now to retain women in the critical last 18 to 24 months of their progression to partnership:
- Accountability: It’s not enough for firm leaders to make general statements about advancing women. They must translate those statements to specific expectations for partners and talent development staff. Progressive firms are training and coaching all partners to become effective sponsors and mentors – and tracking how effective those partners are to detect those who are so good at advancing women that they can coach other partners.
- New ways to assemble qualifications for partnership: BeachFleischman has created a competency in digital business development that dovetails perfectly with the needs of remote workers and those on alternative schedules. Novogradac and Lurie have successfully piloted a model of commissioning partner-potential women to open new offices or lines of business and to design the business model they envision. The result: new ways of working that are friendlier for women right from the start.
- Peer coaching and sharing among top leaders: Sharing ideas, testing strategies, and getting ‘reality checks’ in confidential, as-needed conversations among firm partners accelerates culture change. And, such sharing rapidly builds new relationships and trust among all partners, including new women partners.
The challenge now facing firms is to use their stories to build their reputations with women candidates, both new grads and midcareer hires. The MOVE team hears over and over again that new accounting grads reference the MOVE Project in job interviews. Yet, firms could make much more of their participation in MOVE to show that their commitment to advancing women goes beyond the now-standard claims offered by all employers. Candidates no longer give employers ‘extra credit’ for programs and initiatives that advance women. Candidates expect – and deserve – measurable results. CPA firms that participate in the MOVE Project demonstrate their genuine commitment to holding themselves accountable for measuring their results. And accountability is the first step towards real change.