Bridg­ing the gap

Don’t just say you value your fe­male em­ploy­ees — show it

Accounting Today - - Practiceresources - By Mary Mar­garet Prange

Ac­cord­ing to the 2018 “MOVE Ac­count­ing Project Re­port,” ap­prox­i­mately 51 per­cent of the ac­count­ing work­force is made up of women. De­spite em­body­ing half of the work­force, women only rep­re­sent 24 per­cent of part­ners and prin­ci­pals and 25 per­cent of those on man­age­ment com­mit­tees. There is no ques­tion that on a macro level, this is an in­dus­try is­sue.

The ques­tion then be­comes, what can we as in­di­vid­ual firms do on the mi­cro level to help stim­u­late change? How can our firms play a role in en­cour­ag­ing, mo­ti­vat­ing and em­pow­er­ing women to move up the lad­der to the high­est lev­els of lead­er­ship? There is no doubt that clos­ing a 24 per­cent gap will be chal­leng­ing; it will, how­ever, be worth it.

Where to start

While it may be easy to look past these sta­tis­tics and think, “We don’t have an is­sue at our firm,” you could find that op­por­tu­ni­ties for change may still be wel­comed by the women in your or­ga­ni­za­tion. Take our firm for ex­am­ple: We’ve al­ways prided our­selves on pro­vid­ing a wel­com­ing and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for women. In fact, gen­der in­equal­ity had never re­ally even been brought up.

How­ever, one day some of the mem­bers of our fe­male lead­er­ship team started chat­ting about all the unique ex­pe­ri­ences we have had in our long ca­reers. Ex­pe­ri­ences that we re­al­ized were just “slightly dif­fer­ent” from what our male co-work­ers typ­i­cally en­coun­tered. This re­al­iza­tion brought to light that we needed a fo­rum for coach­ing our fe­male em­ploy­ees about how to han­dle and nav­i­gate these sit­u­a­tions. Rec­og­niz­ing this, our firm de­cided it was time to for­mu­late a plan. We started search­ing for prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions that we could im­ple­ment. A few months later, our Women’s Ini­tia­tive Net­work was born. WIN wasn’t the re­sult of a one-time brain­storm­ing ses­sion; it was the cul­mi­na­tion of col­lab­o­ra­tion, re­search and stake­holder in­put. Don’t just look for a quick fix — in­vest the time to make a cul­tural change.

De­fine a pur­pose

The first step to take be­fore rolling out any type of plan is to de­fine a clear pur­pose — the ob­jec­tive you are try­ing to achieve. For us, our pur­pose was to cre­ate a com­pany-spon­sored pro­gram that would bring to­gether the women in our firm and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties and pro­grams for per­sonal and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, men­tor­ship and net­work­ing. This pur­pose will serve as the cor­ner­stone as you move for­ward and help de­ter­mine pro­gram­ming con­tent.

In­volve ev­ery­one

It is im­per­a­tive that any type of women’s em­pow­er­ment pro­gram be in­clu­sive. Your pro­gram, so­lu­tions or events should be open to all — re­gard­less of gen­der, se­nior­ity, etc. Cre­at­ing a cul­ture of in­clu­siv­ity will help cur­tail re­sent­ment, iso­la­tion or po­ten­tial push­back. En­cour­age ev­ery mem­ber of your team to get in­volved. This can be a grass-roots ini­tia­tive as the pro­gram first starts and even through the first few years. Don’t hes­i­tate to send out per­sonal emails or call your fel­low fe­male em­ploy­ees to get them to at­tend up­com­ing events.

It is also crit­i­cal to have com­plete buy-in from the lead­er­ship team. Hav­ing sup­port from our firm’s lead­er­ship has made firmwide ac­cep­tance pos­si­ble. Not only do they pro­mote, they par­tic­i­pate.

Pro­vide value

In or­der to stim­u­late change and help em­power women to climb the cor­po­rate lad­der, we need to of­fer tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences to as­sist them. We need to show that not only are women in ac­count­ing val­ued, but to help them dis­cover that value for them­selves. Here are three ways you can help em­power women across your firm:

Ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties. Of­fer ed­u­ca­tional events to help pro­vide women with the tools and re­sources they need to suc­ceed. Per­haps it’s a sem­i­nar on the im­por­tance of per­sonal brand­ing, the art of nego­ti­ation, or a panel fea­tur­ing suc­cess­ful women from across the in­dus­try. Ask the women in your firm what they strug­gle with pro­fes­sion­ally and look for ways to aid them in over­com­ing it.

Fa­cil­i­tate net­work­ing. In the busi­ness world, it of­ten isn’t what you know, but who you know. What net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are you pro­vid­ing for women in your firm? Con­sider host­ing net­work­ing events with other pro­fes­sion­als (this can in­clude in­dus­tries out­side of ac­count­ing), look for in­dus­try events to send fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tives to, and seek out speak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male mem­bers of your lead­er­ship team.

Pro­mote causes im­por­tant to women.

Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. If you claim em­pow­er­ing women is im­por­tant, don’t shy away from sup­port­ing char­i­ties or events that are im­por­tant to them. Con­sider do­ing a firmwide push for breast can­cer aware­ness month, vol­un­teer­ing at a lo­cal women’s shel­ter, or sup­port­ing other causes im­por­tant to the women at your firm. These events can cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for bond­ing and one-on-one coach­ing as you vol­un­teer.

Be con­sis­tent

Change doesn’t hap­pen overnight, but it will even­tu­ally oc­cur. Once you im­ple­ment a pro­gram in your firm, stick to it. Con­sis­tency is key. While the gap may at times seem un­pass­able, start build­ing the bridge — one event, one op­por­tu­nity, one woman at a time. Re­mem­ber to cel­e­brate your group’s ac­com­plish­ments and mile­stones and the in­di­vid­ual achieve­ments of the women in your or­ga­ni­za­tion. Be “loud and proud” of those suc­cesses. Don’t just say you value your fe­male em­ploy­ees, show it.

AT

Mary Mar­garet Prange, CPA, is an au­dit part­ner with Cal­i­bre CPA Group.

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