Starting a women’s initiative at your firm
Focused support can help retain valuable female employees.
July 20, 2015
According to AICPA statistics, women have represented about 50% of new accounting bachelor’s and master’s graduates hired by CPA firms since 2000. But women account for only 19% of partners in CPA firms nationwide. As evidence continues to grow for the business imperative of women’s progress within the profession, many firms are embracing the idea of a women’s initiative. Women’s initiatives are programs intended to help women attain leadership positions through strategies such as mentoring, networking, training, and development.
If you’re interested in launching a women’s program at your firm, but aren’t sure where to start, take inspiration and ideas from a firm that recently launched its own.
Holtzman Partners, one of my coaching clients, is an audit, tax, and advisory firm in Austin, Texas, with approximately 50 employees. Managing partner Chris Perkins felt that the firm needed a women’s program given that it has a high-performing group of women managers and senior managers, but only male partners.
“I wanted to make sure this talented group of folks had just as much chance to make partner as any man,” he said. “If there were issues we, as men, didn’t know existed, we wanted access to any gating factors so that we could knock them down.”
The Holtzman Partners Women’s Initiative (HPWI)’s mission is to support women’s professional development and communicate the potential for upward mobility for all women throughout the firm. As the HPWI rounds out its inaugural year, its programming has included four key components: (1) firm-sponsored quarterly events; (2) a monthly book club; (3) encouraged attendance at local women’s networking events; and (4) monthly circulation of articles that focus on matters of interest for professional women.
The quarterly events have ranged from internal women’s events featuring external experts speaking on topics such as work/life balance, business development, and networking as a woman, to larger, external events, such as a social mixer with women in leadership roles within the local business community.
The monthly book club, currently open to all women and partners of the firm, features discussion of a book, at a manageable pace of one chapter per month, over breakfast, lunch, or coffee. As they wrap up the first book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office, by Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., HPWI members are looking forward to opening up the monthly book club to all members of the office, including seeking their input on its next book choice.
Women at Holtzman Partners report that the HPWI is helping them reach their personal and career goals. When asked about the most valuable aspect of the program to her, audit senior manager Jillian Bergman, CPA, responded, “In public accounting, it’s really easy to focus on everyone else—your clients, the people you are mentoring—instead of yourself. When you’re so focused on adding value for everyone else, sometimes you forget to take a step back and think, ‘What do I really want from my career?’”
Audit senior manager Gretchen Leifeste, CPA, committee chair of the HPWI, says her biggest takeaway from the program is “knowing that we have a support system. All of the women in the firm are working towards a common goal.”
If you are looking to start a women’s initiative at your firm, consider the following suggestions: