For decades, women and men have been entering the accounting profession in equal numbers. As a result, you might reasonably assume that women are now at or near parity with men at the leadership level. However, that assumption would be wrong. Only 24% of CPA firm partners are women, according to AICPA statistics. Another recent study found that only 17% of audit partners are women. If these qualified professionals aren’t reaching the top levels, firms are clearly missing out on a lot of talent.
The AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee’s (WIEC) CPA Firm Gender Survey, first distributed in 2015, is designed to identify trends in women’s leadership over time. It informs practical solutions for firms that want to make the most of their talent and prevent the loss of leadership potential. The results provide a unique spotlight on trends related to diversity in leadership and suggest solutions on how best to address them. As we launch the second iteration of the survey this year, I’m reminded of a few of the many valuable insights that the last survey revealed, along with some of the questions firms might want to ask themselves in light of those findings. The lessons learned—and the value and perspective they can offer to CPA firms—underscore the benefits of participating in the survey. Outlined below are a few key takeaways from the inaugural CPA Firm Gender Survey.
The path to partnership is still a tough one for women. Plenty of women are entering the profession—and have been for decades—but the survey clarified how few are actually making it to partner. This finding demonstrated that it’s not enough to wait for women to move up the pipeline; a more proactive stance is necessary. Firm leaders should ask themselves if roadblocks are holding women back in their firms and whether there are unconscious biases or mistaken assumptions about their aspirations or expectations.
Women’s equity ownership remains low. While women in non-equity partner positions may count as partners, they may not have the same influence in the partner group as actual owners. The survey offered insights into the gap between these levels of partnership. Non-equity partnership may be considered a training ground and transition phase at many firms, but do the professionals in this role eventually move into ownership roles? Does it take more or less time than it would without the non-equity partner position? These are questions firms with non-equity partners might ask themselves to ensure that women at this level have an equal shot at ownership.
Leverage talent for succession success. The survey found that about two-thirds of firms did not have a succession plan, and fewer than 5% of existing succession plans had a gender component. Having a deep bench unquestionably benefits firms, which can sometimes overlook valuable players. The solution is to create career paths and succession plans that make an intentional effort to foster women’s advancement.
Consider more than flexible work arrangements. Although flexible work arrangement policies are greatly appreciated and play a role in employee retention, they do not have a direct impact on women’s advancement to leadership positions. To examine proven advancement solutions, this year’s survey will look at intentional steps such as mentoring, sponsoring and diversity and inclusion efforts. You may be interested in reviewing the Women’s Initiative Executive Committee’s Organizational Strategies Toolkit.
Want to make a positive difference in your firm? As you can see, the survey uncovered worthwhile details that firms can use in developing or enhancing their own women’s development efforts. I strongly encourage you to spend a few minutes taking part in this year’s survey to ensure that your practice’s experience is represented. Broad participation enables us to continue to deliver information that will benefit your practice. Survey participants receive their own customized reports that they can use to benchmark their statistics against those of the profession. It’s an excellent tool to use in crafting your own solutions to some important challenges.
Yasmine El-Ramly is a Senior Technical Manager, Global Alliances at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. She oversees women’s initiatives programs, firm services and international projects.
Prior to joining the AICPA, Yasmine worked for CPA firms of various sizes: a big four, a national firm and a local firm. Yasmine published articles on Women in Accounting- Removing the barriers to success, Women’s initiatives: A strategic Advantage, Lowdown on High Potentials, and Keep the Best and Brightest.
This article was originally posted on AICPA Insights and reposted with permission from the author.