Accounting Today - - Spotlight - From page 12 See NET­WORKS on 38

busi­ness model that cuts down on busy sea­son.

“We have a dif­fer­ent tar­geted client base than most firms,” Kirk ex­plained. “We fo­cus on big­ger clients that need year-round ser­vice, which has made us much less com­pli­ant- and state­ment-fo­cused. We don’t have a re­ally huge busy sea­son, like a lot of firms have, fol­lowed by dead time. It’s pretty steady all year-round … That’s what en­ables us to be so flex­i­ble, to al­low that. We don’t have a su­per crazy vol­ume of work dur­ing peak sea­son. Peo­ple don’t get burned out.”

Re­gard­less of op­er­at­ing model, flex­i­ble work en­vi­ron­ments are a con­stant across the board in the Best Firms for Women. For Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton-based Berntson Porter & Co., it’s a mat­ter of re­spect, and an in­te­gral part of the firm’s mis­sion.

“Our core val­ues, im­pact state­ment, em­pha­size treat­ing ev­ery­one with re­spect,” said Mary Ac­tor, pres­i­dent of Berntson Porter, a firm with 96 staff mem­bers, 58 per­cent of them women. “We re­tain women by pri­or­i­tiz­ing flex­i­ble work hours and paid-time off. Em­ploy­ees can ad­just their sched­ule to what­ever, as long as they’re pro­duc­ing re­sults.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the firm con­ducts “wage reviews each year to en­sure salary equal­ity,” Ac­tor con­tin­ued. “It’s a cor­ner­stone of Berntson Porter’s val­ues, the pursuit of con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ments.”

Syra­cuse, N.y.-based Fust Charles Cham­bers cred­its flex­i­ble work sched­ules as the top rea­son for the firm’s women-friendly work­place, where 52 per­cent of its 82 staff mem­bers are fe­male.

“Mod­i­fied work ar­range­ments, such as flex time and re­duced hours, and em­ploy­ees who reg­u­larly work from home — such pro­grams have al­lowed for ca­reer/life in­te­gra­tion whereby we are re­tain­ing more women at the firm at that piv­otal four-to-seven year mark,” com­mented Angela Franco, a part­ner, ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber and head the firm’s tax depart­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2018 Ac­count­ing MOVE Project Re­port, women have rel­a­tive par­ity with men through the four-to-seven-year mark, and all lev­els of man­age­ment up to di­rec­tor, a role that was 47 per­cent fe­male in 2018. Above that, at the man­age­ment com­mit­tee, part­ner and prin­ci­pal lev­els, women fall to 24 or 25 per­cent.

Break­ing with tra­di­tion

Ad­vanc­ing women to these lead­er­ship roles re­quires the same ac­tions firms should im­ple­ment to re­tain all em­ploy­ees, said Ac­tor.

“It’s al­ways go­ing to come down to busy sea­son hours, and work/life in­te­gra­tion is al­ways a chal­lenge,” Ac­tor said. “Some­times it takes a lit­tle bit of time to fig­ure that out. An in­di­vid­ual just start­ing out in pub­lic ac­count­ing, their life changes a lit­tle bit. Pub­lic ac­count­ing is not easy, con­sid­er­ing the work re­quire­ments. Are there ways you like to work bet­ter, al­ter­na­tive work lo­ca­tions — to make it eas­ier — are all part of driv­ing that.”

Firm lead­ers we spoke with con­cede that a flex­i­ble work­place, which can in­clude un­lim­ited paid time-off, might re­quire a learn­ing curve.

“One of the biggest chal­lenges, with poli­cies that are very flex­i­ble, is when [some­one] is new to the work­force, they don’t have enough guide­lines to fig­ure out what they should be do­ing,” Kirk ex­plained. “We’ve tried to han­dle those on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis — we didn’t have peo­ple try­ing to take ad­van­tage, but they didn’t un­der­stand what the guide­lines are. If they have un­lim­ited PTO, they didn’t un­der­stand how much [time] you should be tak­ing off.”

Some­times, it’s lead­er­ship perceptions that need ad­just­ing.

“From a gen­er­a­tional stand­point, un­der­stand­ing it’s OK for peo­ple to work al­ter­na­tive sched­ules,” Ac­tor said. “They might not work full-time for a por­tion of their ca­reer, and that’s OK. That ap­plies to both men and women, to be adapt­able to the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment — the world is a dif­fer­ent place now. With the tech­nol­ogy re­sources, and all that stuff, you don’t have to sit in an of­fice. Con­sider the big­ger pic­ture, the old-school men­tal­ity of think­ing you have to be in your seat [at the of­fice] to be a pro­duc­tive mem­ber of the firm. A lot of firms are like that.”

Firms that adopt more pro­gres­sive poli­cies help com­bat the pro­fes­sion’s neg­a­tive stereo­types, ac­cord­ing to Kirk: “It doesn’t have to be the com­plete and to­tal sweat­shop you typ­i­cally think about when you think about pub­lic ac­count­ing.”

Ac­tor would agree that an im­age over­haul is es­sen­tial to at­tract­ing women to a pro­fes­sion strug­gling both to hire tal­ent and with a large wave of baby boomer

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