Why Women are Critical for Your DEI Initiative
It has been over 120 years since Christine Ross broke barriers and became the first female CPA in the country. Times have dramatically changed for women in the workforce since Ross’s 1899 CPA certification, and women are continuing to make moves in the accounting and financial sector.
The truth remains that within the CPA profession, women are still widely underrepresented, especially in leadership roles both in firms and the corporate finance sector. But when most think about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming, women do not always come to mind as a group needing attention. This is a shortsighted omission.
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Balance and Diversity Creates Opportunity
We’ve said it before: Diversity is good for business. Countless research has shown that firms that strive for increased equality tend to be more successful. They’re also more successful when they take time to regularly utilize feedback from female team members to drive organizational change.
But it’s not just about getting women into the office; it’s about keeping them there. Retention is important for firm health and creates a better pathway for women to become leaders and partners. Firms and companies that offer benefits that positively impact women, including flexible work opportunities and paid maternity leave, tend to perform better and see higher retention rates.
What Women Need to Succeed as CPAs
Like most DEI-related challenges, there’s no quick fix to changing the number of women in the profession and in leadership positions. It’s also important to remember not all individuals have their sights set on partner and senior-level positions. But continuing to further women in the profession is a win for all, creating a richer workplace and positive impacts to your bottom line.
The following five key areas can help further support women and help them succeed in a CPA career.
Early exposure to the profession. If young women don’t see the profession, they won’t see themselves in it. Exposure to opportunities in accounting and finance should ideally start before they step onto a college campus. For some women, exposure and a budding interest can even encourage them to attend college.
Mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship is consistently one of the most critical ways for women to advance. These relationships can provide guidance and a sounding board for career moves. Similarly, a sponsor, someone who is typically at a senior level and is an active advocate for a person, can help open doors, make introductions and expand networks. Women in leadership roles are the ideal mentors and sponsors for junior-level peers, but fewer are available. Male advocates in senior leadership roles are needed to actively provide guidance and help uplift women within their organization and profession.
Flexibility. Flexible work options are increasingly becoming the norm, and a top wish list item for employees both female and male. While the number of firms that offer these options – including hybrid work or reduced hours – are increasing, those employees who choose to take advantage tend to receive bias and are perceived as not being as dedicated to their career. This hinders their ability to progress even with a solid work performance. Employers need to not only embrace flexible work options, but they also need to become more flexible in their vision of what makes a successful leader.
Support through formal DEI initiatives. If your organization is already working on a DEI initiative, are women part of your plan? Be sure to consider ways to include women in existing opportunities, as well as developing opportunities targeted to women. This could look like formal mentorship programs, networking events and support for women preparing to sit for the CPA Exam.
Have conversations. What is the best way to find out what women on your team need? Open conversations. In general, space for communication for all employees creates opportunities to shape a positive firm or organizational culture. These conversations, though sometimes tough, help you dig deeper into how you can be a better advocate for your team members.
Reprinted with permission of the Indiana CPA Society
Original publication: Feb 22, 2022