Recruitment Season. Every year around this time, CPAsNET becomes inundated with requests for assistance in recruiting top talent. As we meet with firms to discuss recruitment, the topic of succession planning almost always comes up. Bottom line: firms are struggling for talent and they need successors.
Recently, we had the pleasure of launching a manager training program for an association. The number of women in the room outpaced men 3:1. While I’m not usually the first to bring up gender gap issues in the workplace, I can’t ignore the fact that this is a hot topic. From presidential campaigns to recent articles published by CPA Practice Advisor and the Journal of Accountancy, the struggle is real. Women currently make up 57% of the labor workforce so for accounting firms looking at their bench and wondering who will be taking over, or for firms looking for more ‘talent’, a focus needs to be placed on women.
Here are some tips for recruiting and retaining women in your accounting firm.
Address the Gender Gap
Almost every firm has a gender gap whether they realize it or not. If you aren’t convinced, start by looking at your partner group. While the profession has made strides in this area, there is still a lot that needs to be accomplished. We have far too many women that ‘sit’ at the manager level and never make it to the partnership level. Oftentimes, this gap in executive leadership is caused by a one-size-fits-all career path.
So how should an accounting firm address gender gaps? First, be aware of it. Second, address it head on and have good information to back you up. Our good friend Jen Wilson at Convergence Coaching recently published an excellent article on How Firms Can Close the Gender Gap.
Offer Non-Traditional Career Paths
I know this has been beaten to death, but flexible work arrangements are a must for attracting the best talent. Our company recently posted an open position on our team. Because we are a virtual employer, we clearly stated our flexible work arrangement. In just three short weeks, we received an overwhelming response. Many applicants were way overqualified for the position, which was flattering, but it left a lasting impression. By offering people the opportunity to contribute their best and highest use of talents while keeping their commitments intact, one can cultivate a deeper talent pool.
The key to offering non-traditional career paths is changing your mindset on how to manage. Managing isn’t done by sight and it isn’t accomplished by the # of hours you work. We should all be focused on working smarter. As a side note, most women excel at this concept because of everything they balance.
Manage Your Expectations & Assumptions
Sometimes, just sometimes, leaders have unrealistic expectations of women or assume more than they should. Let me explain. Sometimes, when an accounting professional makes it to the partner level, he – or she – may get stuck in “prove it” mode and expect more of the women than of the men coming up behind him/her in the ranks. At times, these partners can even chastise younger associates for wanting some of things that they have. It is often subconscious and unintentional, but it still exists. Firms need to ensure that expectations are fair and consistent across the board.
In another setting, managers can tend to assume some women in the firm don’t want to progress because they don’t scream as loudly as the men. Look, men and women are wired differently. You simply can’t assume a women doesn’t want to progress to the next level because she isn’t beating down a partner’s door and asking for it. Keep the lines of communication open and check your assumptions at the door.
Develop Women All Employees
I am a solid believer that firms do not spend enough time developing their people. I’m not talking about technical CPE; there is plenty of that. I think a lot of the issues we see in the profession are due to poor skill development outside technical areas. As a profession, investment in developing people looks a bit like the image below. We need to be intentional about going below the surface with all employees in order to get them to where they need to be; osmosis simply won’t work.
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