Growing Talent Is Everybodys Business

Turn more rookies into partners.
BY ANITA BAKER

One of the biggest evolutions in the accounting field’s 100-year history is the presence of women in the profession. As of 2003

42% of full-time CPAs were women.
Almost 6 in 10 (59%) of the staff in entry-level positions were women.
Almost 1 in 5 partners (19%) and 4 in 10 (38%) senior managers were women.

Despite these numbers, women still lag behind their male counterparts in leadership positions. As firm partners retire over the next 10 years, it will be critical to prepare for the leadership losses by developing women for these roles. Initiating the growth of women is a shared responsibility between firm leaders and managers on the one hand and women themselves on the other. Each has a defined role.

THE FIRST FIVE YEARS
Women
Build your core accounting skills and work to become a process leader. Learn the business, the field of practice and how best to work and communicate with a diverse set of people across all levels of the organization. Begin honing your industry knowledge to set you apart from your peers and to develop more effective and efficient approaches to your client engagements. Most important, work on completing your CPA exam by your second year.

This also is a great time to identify a mentor one to two levels above you to guide you through those unwritten and often complex organizational rules not taught in accounting classes. A mentor of either sex is appropriate, because building your core accounting and business competencies can be learned from any great leader.

Firms and managers
Let new employees know they are expected to perform well immediately and hit targets. Regular on-the-job coaching keeps employees of both sexes working most effectively for the organization. Actively manage employee talent by weeding out poor performers and identifying rising stars of both sexes, and support the establishment of a mentoring program.

STAFF LEADERSHIP
Women
Being a firm leader requires management experience, so seek opportunities to build a team to follow in your footsteps. Delegate and empower a group to accomplish much more than you could as one individual. Coach and prepare individuals to succeed you to make your transition into a new role smoother for both clients and your team.

Firms and managers
Cultivating and expanding the abilities and skills of females will allow you to more fully develop your human resources capabilities at a time when no company can afford to ignore a single source of competitive advantage. Offer assignments that stretch the skills of talented people to accelerate their growth.

PROFESSIONAL GROWTH
Women

Once you’ve demonstrated success in developing both your core skill sets and your team, turn your career vision outward and participate on an industry committee that focuses on the service niche you’ve developed. Get involved on task forces or projects and seek out leadership positions, such as serving as a committee head or accepting speaking assignments at conferences.

Firms and managers
Take note of performers who are increasing visibility for themselves and the firm through professional organizations. Look for ways to align the advancement of women with your business agenda. For example, joining women’s networks could bring in women business owners as clients. Harness performer talent—or risk losing it.

PRACTICE LEADERSHIP
Women
It is critical to understand the strategic direction of the firm and your role in its growth. Continually update and revise your career plan. Get a professional coach for an honest perspective on where you need to improve your skills.

If you want to be a leader, make yourself highly visible. Write articles, participate in media interviews, volunteer for leadership roles in firm initiatives and make internal and external presentations. Focus on improving yourself in areas where you need development for leadership roles.

Firms and managers
Create an environment where flexibility doesn’t bring career penalties. Research shows both women and men will take advantage of workplace flexibility programs.

There is no magic bullet to propel women forward; it takes hard work, dedication and commitment. Creating an environment where women want to work benefits all employees and positively affects the bottom line. Preparing for the future is critical—our profession depends on it.

—Anita Baker is principal-in-charge of benefit services firmwide at
LarsonAllen, Minneapolis

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