Women may represent more than 50% of accounting graduates entering the profession for the last 20 years, but make up only 19% of the partners in accounting firms nationwide. A desire to keep top accounting talent in the profession has the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC) engaged in a variety of activities to help women in the profession succeed. The Women in the Profession initiative offers a variety of programs and services to help women achieve higher levels of leadership in their careers, and to help organizations engage men and women equally.
“When I became a CPA 25 years ago, I thought we would have come a lot further than we have,” said Melissa Hooley, CPA, who chairs the WEIC. “We’ve improved, but not to the degree I think we should have.”
When not volunteering with AICPA, Melissa is partner-in-charge of the employee benefit plan practice at Anton Collins Mitchell LLP in Denver. She points out that there is a business case for diversity in leadership; organizations with diverse leaders are more successful than those without. In addition, there is a succession issue; as baby boomers retire, she believes it’s important to keep talent within the industry or there will be a shortage.
Melissa, previous chair Mary Bennett, and the WEIC committee worked diligently to create a comprehensive mission for their committee: to promote within the accounting profession an environment that provides opportunities for equal engagement of women and men in leadership of the accounting profession, advancement of women to positions of leadership, and the successful integration of personal and professional lives.
Similarly, WIEC’s vision is to impact the profession by achieving results in the following three areas:
- Increasing the visibility and advancement of women in the profession.
- Influencing the cultures of firms and organizations to support the advancement of women.
- Providing credible statistics regarding the issues that impact women in the profession.
“Key success factors historically missing for women are career advocacy and help navigating the path their career takes,” said Melissa. “For example, men and women have unequal access to career development and advocacy experiences. It’s like traveling without a guide. Additionally, women have limited access to female or diverse role models. They can’t easily say that woman looks like me, I can picture myself in that role.”
Melissa points out that the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook at the time of publication, has done a lot recently to raise awareness that the lack of women leaders is still an issue. The Harvard Business Review devoted an issue to the topic in September 2013 as well.
“There are unintended biases that need to be addressed. The reality is women are still the main caregivers which makes career/life integration more challenging,” said Melissa. “Firms, and the industry as a whole, need to help women leaders. These women have talent we can’t afford to lose for the sustainability of the profession.”
The WEIC board is made up of a diverse group of female and male volunteers helping to develop AICPA initiatives targeting individuals and firms.
“The WEIC made me realize it is important for men and women to work together on this issue to promote talent in the industry,” said Melissa. “Having a daughter who is joining the workforce made me realize how critically important it is for individuals to have access to resources and develop skills such as networking early in their careers. Hopefully, in another 25 years, we won’t be facing the same issues.”
WEIC and the Women in the Profession offer a variety of programs to move the needle on developing diverse leadership within the accounting profession:
- Workshops – A variety of workshops are offered to individuals and firms. Retaining and Developing Women Leaders is an organizational strategy workshop offered annually that helps firms recruit, retain, and maximize women leaders. Attendees leave with a fully developed business case to implement at their organization.
- Social Media – The AICPA Women in the Profession LinkedIn Group shares resources and encourages discussion, offers networking opportunities. and provides access to visible role models via a private group.
- Webcasts – Aimed at individuals, webcasts help build skills such as business development, networking, and career management.
- Research – A variety of white papers and articles are available to help educate, advocate, and advance women via the AICPA website.
- Speaker’s Bureau – Speakers are available for local state society meetings via a speaker’s bureau.
- Women to Watch – The WIEC initiated the Women to Watch Award Program in 2005 in partnership with several state CPA societies to honor outstanding women in the profession. The Women to Watch awards highlight the accomplishments of women in the profession and demonstrate to emerging female leaders that success is not out of reach. Currently, 15 state societies hold the awards.
- Annual Conference – In 2012, the WEIC established an annual conference aimed at women and leadership. The Women’s Global Leadership Summit for 2014 will be held in Washington D.C. on October 23-24. The objective of this conference is to focus on leadership, boardroom diversity, and best practices to enhance the skills and potential of women leaders within the financial community.
- Additional Resources – A variety of surveys, articles, DVDs and other resources are available via the website.
Interested in becoming involved? Take advantage of the resources above or check out the many available volunteer opportunities.
Does your firm have many women leaders? Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org