By Shari Ruecker, CFC, CLU
Women comprise 60% of accounting positions, yet only 24% of partners are women. Despite this disparity, it’s important to note that firms that promote gender diversity have higher rates of engagement, productivity, and stronger financials than noninclusive firms.
To make meaningful changes, firms need to seriously tackle how they can recruit and retain female talent beyond the mid-level. They must commit to the acquisition, retention, and development of top female talent as a critical business strategy.
Kristin Seeger, director of talent acquisition for Kreischer Miller in Horsham, Pa., and a 2020 PICPA Women to Watch Award winner, says firms need to “explicitly communicate diversity and staffing goals, and support these goals with highly visible actions and results.”
Leaders should strive to create cultures that expect and value female leadership. When working to establish positive firm cultures, women must have a say. Their voice should be heard when making decisions, they should be fairly considered for promotions, and flexibility in work-life balance should be offered to meet their needs.
The work can’t stop there, though. Firm leaders need to take steps to enact highly personalized professional development plans for female employees, as well as launching training and retention programs. Professional development initiatives should focus on career plans, mentorship opportunities, offering experience or skills development that candidates may lack, and access to interaction with higher-ups. This type of guidance will help take women to the next level and ultimately make their firms more sustainable.
Engaging with female talent early on about their career goals and performance is essential. This is a great opportunity to identify which skills and experiences are needed to advance to higher leadership positions.
“Verify that your compensation and training policies support these goals as opposed to undermining them, and consider creating an employee resource group designed to enhance skills development of your female talent,” Seeger advises.
Women who decide to establish their own practice are often motivated by work-life balance, flexibility, and devoting more time to their family. While many women want to be challenged and fulfilled by the work that they do, they still want to remain connected and involved with their family and friends.
When firms offer benefits like flexible hours and alternative work arrangements, they can stand out from the competition during a job search. These benefits not only help employers differentiate themselves during job searches, but also aid in retention as employees move through different life stages.
Firms that have options create significant value for all employees. One way to even the playing field is by encouraging paternity leave or establishing a gender-neutral parental leave policy.
In fact, a study from Bentley University showed that younger people look for jobs with flexible hours. Seventy-seven percent of millennials surveyed said that flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age. Digital technology allows people to work anytime and anywhere. Firms that embrace flexibility, sooner rather than later, will benefit in the race for accounting industry talent.
Change doesn’t happen overnight but establishing business plans and following through on them will, in time, lead to a more diverse and successful workforce. As you grow this culture, there are many ways for firms to establish a more positive environment, like taking action against sexism, examining pay and promotion practices, having external auditors examine and approve the fairness of your practices, and engaging and educating male allies.
Leaders must take a clear stance and make it public knowledge that they are dedicated to promoting gender equality and implementing programs that let women influence the workplace culture. Ultimately, firms need to understand how to leverage the unparalleled strengths of a diverse leadership team and make changes that will prove beneficial in the long-run.
Shari Ruecker, CFC, CLU, is senior vice president of sales and marketing at Aon Affinity. She can be reached at email@example.com.
If gender diversity is important to you, you must attend PICPA's Women's Leadership Conference this October.
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