Noting that “Women are underrepresented as partners and top executives in the accounting profession,” a panel of women accounting leaders said the way to change is for firms to focus on talent acquisition, retention, and promotion.
In a session at AICPA’s ENGAGE 2020 online conference the four women leaders explained it’s not enough for firms to simply hire more women accountants. Partners and managing executives have to provide women training and career support in an environment that shows them women can succeed.
With only 23% of CPA firm partners who are women, “[E]very organization should assess their talent pipeline and the career life cycle to identify the peaks or trends for where they are losing women and if they are experiencing career stagnation,” advised Latoria J. “Tori” Farmer, executive director of inclusion and diversity at KPMG LLP
Senior partners need to be asking themselves some uncomfortable questions if they want to improve the representation of women on the leadership team, according to the account of the session in the Journal of Accountancy.
Five questions emerged as among the most essential:
- Do women see future opportunities at the organization?
- Are women provided with the right and adequate career support?
- Do women feel comfortable in the environment?
- Are women held to higher standards for promotions?
- Are women receiving the critical training they need?
Leaders need to identify high-performing or high-potential individuals, Farmer said. Then they need to ensure the firm is providing “on-the-job experiences, executive education, and other leadership development opportunities that validate and showcase their potential.”
Just as important is sponsorship. Different from mentorship, the panelists said a sponsor is someone who puts “his or her professional reputation and political advantages on the line to advocate for someone else,” the Journal reported.
It’s also important for women who may be mothers, caretakers or partners of other working professionals to know they won’t be overlooked because of those responsibilities. Explained Farmer, “Women desire the ability to connect with role models at those similar life stages. When they find that network, that becomes a reason for them to stay.”
For women of color, these issues are even more important, the panelists said.
“They don’t see the representation at the top. They don’t see leaders of similar profiles and roles of influence and power,” Farmer said. “They’re navigating this intersectionality of race and gender.”