Build­ing new net­works of sup­port

Women-friendly work­places are tak­ing ad­van­tage of new de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives and work sched­ules that ben­e­fit all staff, but es­pe­cially un­der­rep­re­sented fe­male lead­ers ac­count­ing­to­day.com

Accounting Today - - Spotlight - By Danielle Lee See NET­WORKS on 14

The strik­ingly low num­ber of women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions re­mains a prob­lem for the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion, and progress to rec­tify this in­equity has been slow. Only 22 per­cent of CPA firm part­ner­ship is fe­male, ac­cord­ing to the “2017 CPA Firm Gen­der Sur­vey,” con­ducted by the Women’s Ini­tia­tives Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of CPAS. This im­bal­ance is even more strik­ing when con­sid­er­ing that women make up nearly half of ac­count­ing grad­u­ates, at 48 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the AICPA.

This part­ner­ship per­cent­age marks a slight de­cline in the two years since the AICPA re­leased its in­au­gu­ral Gen­der Sur­vey, in 2015, which found women rep­re­sented 24 per­cent of part­ners in CPA firms. These sober­ing sta­tis­tics are oft-cited as the pro­fes­sion grap­ples with how to re­tain and ad­vance women, and firms seek help in cul­ti­vat­ing women-friendly work­places.

Ac­count­ing To­day’s 2018 Best Firms for Women sig­nify a bright spot in the pro­fes­sion, by not only re­tain­ing women but help­ing them flour­ish. These firms share many pop­u­lar poli­cies, pro­grams, and pos­i­tive of­fice cul­tures — at­tributes that orig­i­nally landed them on Ac­count­ing To­day’s 2018 Best Firms to Work For list (un­veiled in the Novem­ber is­sue) — but they are also van­guards in gen­der in­clu­siv­ity. To com­pile this list, Ac­count­ing To­day and Best Com­pa­nies Group drilled deeper into the Best Firms to Work For sur­vey re­sults to fac­tor in per­cent­age of fe­male em­ploy­ees, fe­male re­sponse rate to the sur­vey, and the per­cent­age of pos­i­tive fe­male re­sponses.

As a small but shin­ing group of firms mak­ing progress on a long-fes­ter­ing is­sue, we asked the Best Firms for Women to shed some light on how they are op­er­at­ing women-friendly work­places, and what the pro­fes­sion can learn from their suc­cess.

Func­tional flex­i­bil­ity

What has be­come a base­line ex­pec­ta­tion for em­ploy­ees at all ac­count­ing firms is also the most com­mon qual­ity in a Best Firm for Women: flex­i­ble work sched­ules.

This is es­pe­cially true at the No. 1 Best Firm for Women, San An­to­nio-based ATKG, where women make up three-quar­ters of the staff and three of the firm’s five part­ners.

“One of the things, be­ing 75 per­cent women over­all, is we hardly have any­thing we’d call women’s ini­tia­tives,” ex­plained ATKG man­ag­ing part­ner Me­lanie Kirk. “We try to make the whole firm more flex­i­ble.” The ben­e­fit is univer­sal, Kirk said, “be­cause, as a pro­fes­sion, our chal­lenge is keep­ing peo­ple in pub­lic ac­count­ing. All [three of the fe­male part­ners] worked in big firms, 80 hours a week. [Some peo­ple] de­cide pub­lic ac­count­ing is ter­ri­ble, and go to in­dus­try, or another ca­reer en­tirely.”

ATKG’S higher per­cent­age of fe­male em­ploy­ees and lead­ers aligns with in­dus­try data, which shows smaller firms have higher per­cent­ages of fe­male part­ners than av­er­age. With 42 staff mem­bers, ATKG is in the 21-to-99 CPAS cat­e­gory in the AICPA’S break­down of part­ners by firm size, in­cluded in its 2017 “CPA Firm Gen­der Sur­vey.” At firms in that cateogry, 26 per­cent of part­ners are women, ac­cord­ing to the AICPA, ris­ing to 30 per­cent in the 11-to-20-cpas cat­e­gory. The per­cent­age is higher still — 42 per­cent — in firms with two to 10 CPAS.

ATKG’S size presents a chal­lenge in re­cruit­ing staff over­all, Kirk said, but it has helped in at­tract­ing women.

“There’s a huge chal­lenge in not be­ing able to get enough peo­ple as a small firm,” Kirk shared. “We tar­geted women at small firms who had chil­dren … We got a rep­u­ta­tion as a women-friendly firm from the get-go be­cause we spe­cially tar­geted those peo­ple. We could get that re­ally high cal­iber of per­son. Our rep­u­ta­tion has got­ten to the point of be­ing a very fam­ily-friendly, flex­i­ble firm.”

Also help­ing ATKG is a younger staff and part­ner group — Kirk counts only two or three peo­ple over the age of 50. Ad­di­tion­ally, the firm ben­e­fits from a

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