Starting a women’s initiative

By Sarah Elliott, CPA

Evidence continues to grow for the business imperative of women’s progress within the CPA profession. If you want to help by starting a women’s initiative at your firm, consider the following suggestions.

Solicit support from firm leadership. Educate firm leadership on the business case for promoting women's issues in the workplace. Firm leaders need to champion the mission and benefits of the program in words and deeds, publicly and privately.

Create a core purpose and objectives for the program tailored to your firm's needs. Use input from leadership and a cross section of women throughout the organization. One goal might be to advance more women to partner. Address challenges that might inhibit this goal, and create subgoals such as increasing retention and improving promotion statistics for women within the firm. Tie the program to the firm's strategic plan so it benefits the whole firm, not just the female employees.

Allocate budget dollars to spend on educational programming. This may include the cost of engaging external experts. Educational programming ideas include skill building tailored for women, and education for all employees to generate awareness of unconscious gender biases and to foster more effective cross-gender communication.

Host social events. Incorporate a social component to encourage the creation of a peer support network and deeper relationship building among women at all levels within the firm. Social events can include women outside the firm, such as former firm members and clients.

Give men a role. For the program to be effective, everyone should be educated on women's issues: the challenges women face, the value they bring to the table, and the ways their work styles may differ from men's. Communicate the purpose and objectives of the program to male and female employees. While programming should focus on women and women's issues, men should be invited when appropriate.

Forge mentoring relationships. Provide opportunities for aspiring women leaders to establish relationships with other women in the firm, and look for career advocates among the firm's male leaders.

Meet consistently to maintain momentum and encourage relationship building within the group. Meetings should occur even during peak busy seasons. The support could be essential during demanding periods of the year.

Use teamwork. A team structure allows for more perspectives and sharing of ideas, ultimately resulting in more effective programming.

Start small. If your plans for the program seem too overwhelming or time-consuming, it will be difficult to get employees to buy in.

Editor's note: This checklist is adapted from the article "Starting a Women's Initiative at Your Firm," CPA Insider, July 20, 2015. For more information about improving gender diversity in accounting firms, read the AICPA publication Organizational Strategies: Retaining & Developing Women Leaders at aicpa.org.

By Sarah Elliott, CPA (sarah@ellivateadvisors.com), a professional coach and the founder of Ellivate Advisors.

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