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
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.
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