A Business Imperative

No talent left behind.
BY NANCY R. BALDIGA

What do high labor costs, succession planning and client expectations have in common? Answer: They are all huge challenges facing the accounting profession. Large numbers of corporate and firm executives quickly are approaching retirement and many will leave in the next 10 to 15 years. The challenge is clear: Firms will have to find highly skilled replacements for their senior professionals. The solution: Recruit, retain and promote top talent.

The advancement of women is critical to these goals. Yet, despite the large number of women who enter the profession every year, relatively few have advanced to the level of partner, senior executive or corporate board member. That will have to change. It’s no longer a question of addressing women’s advancement because of fairness: It’s become a business imperative.

In the last decade, a number of firms and companies began to consider ways to address this issue. Many analyzed the situation, developed plans and evaluated the outcomes. Leaders found the key to success was to show how the advancement of women benefited the organization to underscore its strategic importance to everyone. Firms with successful plans typically see the following benefits:

Reduced costs. Organizations that retain and promote a significant portion of their talent pool minimize the need to compete for experienced talent in a costly labor market.

Improved succession planning. Many firms reevaluated their selection process to identify candidates for special development programs when they realized women were receiving few invitations. They understand the need to invest in professional development, cultural change and strategic plans that prepare the next generation for leadership. They identify future leaders earlier in the process and provide them with the professional development opportunities they need to excel. Drawing from a larger, more diverse talent pool gives leaders and participants a better understanding of the issues and personal challenges they will face and results in new and creative approaches.

Enhanced relationships with clients and customers. Business owners and stakeholders in our diverse economy demand their leadership teams and outside professionals reflect the diversity of American culture and global business. Management appreciates seeing a team that represents the community, and sees the benefits of new ideas and approaches offered by teams that reflect the demographics of the community.

There is a measurable business case for women’s advancement and it’s a persuasive one. Firms that focus on the promotion and development of women and minorities not only see immediate benefits but also prepare for coming challenges. Firm leaders who recognize the value of addressing women’s advancement aren’t just doing what’s right, they’re preparing for tomorrow and doing what’s smart.

—Nancy R. Baldiga, CPA, associate professor and chair,
department of economics, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.

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