Retaining females at your accounting firm
Finding qualified staff and retaining them rank as top issues at accounting firms of all sizes, according to the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section’s (PCPS) 2017 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. Given that these two challenges perennially show up in this and other surveys, accounting firms would benefit if they could find ways to retain more women in their practices.
After all, women make up 60 percent of all accounting graduates and 52 percent of all new hires into public accounting, according to Rita Keller, an accounting firm management consultant, speaker and author.
“This issue of retaining females in public accounting is right up there at the top of all the issues firms face,” says Keller. “Accounting firms have been hiring more women, but they drop out in greater numbers than men.”
This is harmful not only because firms have to turn around and hire someone new, but also because many women leave public accounting right as they have gained the experience that makes them extremely valuable to the firm, says Keller, who is leading the upcoming webinar, “Women in Accounting Thriving NOW and into the FUTURE.”
Keller says practice leaders should keep several things in mind if they would like to help more women thrive in their firms and be able to take partnership roles more often. (Women make up less than 24 percent of all partners, she says.)
Open communication with female accounting staff
First, emphasizing communication with staff is one way to help retain women and really, all valued staff. Many women will leave firms as they begin to have families because they’ve never talked with management about their plans or how the firm might be willing to provide some flexibility to retain a valued employee, according to Keller. Management can foster a spirit of communication about staff development and retention.
“It’s opening the lines of communication and providing the flexible models that facilitate working,” she says. “Some people can work two days a week from home, or if a woman’s husband gets transferred and she wants to stay with the accounting firm, maybe they can allow her to work remotely.”
Developing different approaches for different employees places more of a strain on a firm’s human resources department, because management might have to prorate benefits or balance schedules of part-time staffers so that work is completed as needed. But in many ways, technology has made it easier for firms to be flexible, and they should take advantage of that, Keller says.
“Working remotely is easier now because of laptops and because everything is done from the cloud,” she says. Allowing remote work used to be more risky for firms than before cloud technology was so commonplace. “If someone would take a laptop in the field for an audit and it got lost, all of the work was on the laptop, but now the laptop is just a connection to the Internet where the work is stored,” she says. In addition, the technology investments required to facilitate remote work have really dropped since most workers don’t require printers or phones beyond their personal cell phones when they’re out of the office.
Be intentional about providing training, experience
A second practice that can help retain women in the accounting firm is to be intentional about providing the education and experience that prepares them to become partners, according to Keller. Again, this is a good practice for retaining both qualified women and men, and it involves being clear about expectations for how staff are selected to become partners, then establishing systems and training for ensuring staff move forward on a partner track. Many women who enter accounting don’t necessarily have experience selling services, yet being a top “rainmaker” is often a requirement to become partner, so firms should offer training if necessary, Keller says. It also involves deciding whether someone working part-time might be able to become a partner despite the reduced schedule. “Having part-time partners is becoming more common, especially with the progressive firms,” Keller says.
Keller says accounting firms have many options available to help them retain women. She is providing more tips during the webinar on Nov. 2. Register to attend here.
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