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One woman’s perspective on retaining women CPAs

Studies show that women are entering CPA firms in record numbers. But what are the factors that will keep talented women in public accounting as strong, successful leaders?

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that the accounting profession is expected to grow faster through 2018 than any other profession currently tracked. According to the AICPA, new CPAs are evenly split between men and women. These statistics indicate that this is a time of tremendous opportunity not only for accountants, but specifically women in public accounting.

Additional statistics demonstrate that women CPAs have made progress over the past 25 years in terms of reaching high career levels within CPA firms. In the late 1980s, women made up 26% of senior managers; by 2013, they comprised 43% of senior managers. While the number of women in leadership roles has increased, the profession has a long way to go to fully advance women CPAs.

The MOVE project is a joint research project cosponsored by the American Society of Women Accountants and the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants. The project ranks firms on the range, depth and success of programs and workplace culture proven to remove barriers to women’s success, especially at midlevel and above. They found that the average CPA firm is 19% female at the partner and principal level. This is somewhat troubling given that women have reached parity in terms of becoming CPAs. Why, if women are entering the profession and becoming CPAs at rates comparable to men, are they not staying in the profession or attaining the level of partner?

Many women have indicated that they leave the profession due to the inability to find a suitable work/life balance. This fact, viewed in light of the statistics of the accounting profession, indicate a critical need for employers to find creative strategies to keep women employed in the profession. For many women, the solution exists in a more flexible work schedule.

I have found that Frazier & Deeter understands the need to find a suitable schedule that helps valued employees satisfy their home and work needs. Like other F&D female professionals, the flexible schedule has permitted me to continue growing in my career. I currently work a flexible schedule of 75% of a typical 40 hour work week. During the traditional busy season I work in excess of 40 hours a week, then reduce my schedule to 3 days a week during non-peak months. When my children were younger, I worked fewer hours, and did not work during summer vacation.

This willingness to focus on individual needs makes a workplace a more attractive option for both men and women, but it especially helps retain women as they navigate the critical years of raising children. It was not a surprise to me that Frazier & Deeter was recognized by the MOVE project as one of the best firms for women CPAS in the country; work schedule flexibility has enabled the firm to retain women which in turn opens the door for more women to reach the partner ranks.

By recognizing the fact that firms cannot afford to exclude these talented employees from the workforce, companies are able to avoid losing experienced, talented professionals. This improves staff retention, which in turn helps retain clients.

JoAnn Gotschall is a Manager in Frazier & Deeter’s Audit Department.

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