By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)
According to the annual Accounting MOVE Project, created by the American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA) along with Joanne Cleaver, president and founder of the research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, women account for over half (51.4 percent) of all accounting firm employees, yet, they rarely make it “to the top rank in their profession: partner or senior executive.”
A 2010 MOVE study, released in early April, revealed one reason why women hit the glass ceiling at the senior management level: firms neglect to build women’s skills in business development, forgoing new clients and revenue in the process. And this is just one of a few crucial oversights that make it hard for women to advance in an industry that is otherwise seen as supportive of them.
In conjunction with the findings, ASWA and Cleaver have also released – for the first time ever – a list of the Ten Best Accounting Firms for Women, based on the MOVE research. According to Cleaver, showcasing the best firms provides learning points and insight that other firms can put in place to increase their pipeline of women and help them reach the next level.
“We’re very enthusiastic about the list of firms; they’re all strong in very different ways, but all of them are on the right track,” Cleaver said. “It’s also important to point out that these firms vary in size and through our research we’ve found that size isn’t a barrier to excellence. Very large firms can throw money at programs and even then, sometimes they don’t work. I think the list illustrates the fact that you don’t have to be a big to advance women; you must be smart.”
Here is the Accounting MOVE Project’s list of the Ten Best Accounting Firms for Women, and why they stand out.
BDO, New York
According to the project, BDO knows what it is doing: it consistently measures the incremental change in the number of women at key levels within the firm and correlates that with programs, training, and retention efforts. Understanding that clients face career-derailing work-life conflicts as well, BDO has positioned its five-year-old Work+Life program as a brand-builder that complements its primary marketing message of service and excellence.
Berry Dunn McNeil & Parker, Portland, ME
The MOVE Project found that without support, flexwork can become a one-way street — out. According to the list, Berry Dunn’s culture sets flexwork in the context of team dynamics, goals, and business accomplishments. The study found that this type of team approach to flexwork is used by only 36 percent of the firms surveyed in the MOVE Project. At Berry Dunn, the focus of flexwork is always toward the ultimate goal of equipping women and the firm to do their best work and keeping women on track for advancement.
The Bonadio Group, Pittsford, NY
According to the MOVE Project, along with consistent pay equity practices, Bonadio encourages a “pay it forward” coaching environment to ensure that less experienced staff members benefit from that gained by others, including partners. It was found that teams take ownership of synchronizing assignments with those on flexible schedules to encourage beneficial opportunities for all.
CCR LLP, Westborough, MA
The MOVE Project found that when women at CCR began lobbying for updates in the firm’s benefits and career advancement programs, the firm’s leadership quickly realized that applying short-term fixes did not address the underlying issues. So, in 2008 the firm formulated its first women’s initiative with a focus on equipping women with career-building skills. Thus far, one of the firm’s most important accomplishments has been helping women gain key assignments with community non-profits.
Hood & Strong, San Francisco, CA
As pointed out previously by Cleaver, size is not a barrier to excellence and the MOVE Project actually found that women thrive at smaller firms where they can be mentored by partners and see firsthand what it takes to get to the top. Fifty-three percent of Hood & Strong’s partners are women and it has catalyzed a culture that moves women into business development early in their careers.
Jones & Roth, Eugene, OR
Even at midsized firms it’s easy for women to slip through the cracks, but according to the list the chances of that happening at Jones & Roth are slim. Every employee at the firm has an individual career development plan, and a coaching plan to help her achieve these goals, and it appears the system is working. At most firms, the glass ceiling for female accountants is as at the senior manager level, but at Jones & Roth there are nearly as many women senior managers as women employees overall – 55.6 percent.
Moss Adams, Seattle, WA
The Glass Hammer discussed Moss Adams’ Forum_W women’s initiative in its overview of the 2009 Accounting MOVE Project and according to this year’s findings, the firm continues to dig deep to build stronger foundations for Forum_W. According to MOVE’s 2010 findings, Adams identified Office Champions and challenged them to engage their offices, with in-depth training, communications, and ready-to-go programs framed the rollout. A widely disseminated annual report documents Adams’ results and activities and outlines the firm’s path forward and with female partners already at 21 percent, the firm is better positioned than most to see that number rise.
Rothstein Kass, Roseland, NJ
As mentioned previously, the 2010 Accounting MOVE Report found that women start to leave at the senior manager level just as they are poised to make partner. According to the project, for the past several years, Rothstein Kass has concentrated several initiatives at that point of vulnerability, including intense small-group mentoring led by women partners; business development training; and a work/life program that dovetails with career development plans.
William Vaughan Company, Maumee, OH
William Vaughan’s pipeline is representative of what many firms should strive for. Women are actually overrepresented at the senior manager level, accounting for 75 percent. According to the MOVE Project, this firm is clearly poised to dramatically boost its proportion of women partners, which is currently at 20 percent.
Wiss & Co., Livingston, NJ
The MOVE Project found that business development skills are often difficult for women, who tend to concentrate on achieving technical excellence, but Wiss is paving the way for its rising women by launching a local women’s leadership seminar that serves as a networking group for women executives and business owners — and a welcoming environment for its own women venturing into business development.