Succession issues likely to fuel urgency around retention of women CPAs

By Ken Tysiac

Melissa Hooley, CPA, CGMA
Melissa Hooley, CPA, CGMA, at the AICPA spring Council meeting in New Orleans (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)

The urgency around advocating for women has increased in the accounting profession, Melissa Hooley, CPA, CGMA, said Tuesday at the AICPA spring Council meeting in New Orleans.

Many CPA leaders from the Baby Boomer generation will be retiring over the next several years, and the profession needs to find successors. Hooley said women can play an important part in filling the shoes of the retiring CPAs, so the profession can’t afford to lose them.

The impending retirements mean that accounting firms and other organizations that employ CPAs face potential shortfalls in their leadership and their ability to provide services. Recruiting, promoting, and retaining women in the profession at higher rates than in the past could provide an answer to those challenges.

As a result, the advancement of women in the profession and at their organizations has become a business imperative.

“We’re not doing this because it’s the nice thing to do,” said Hooley, who chairs the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC), in an interview prior to Council. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for the success and longevity of the profession.”

Hooley, partner-in-charge for employee benefit plan services with Anton Collins Mitchell LLP, presented new WIEC research showing that women are even more underrepresented in the profession in equity ownership than in partnership positions. At firms with 11 to 20 CPAs, women make up 39% of partners but just 23% of the equity ownership. At firms with 21–99 CPAs, 27% of the partners are women, and women hold 17% of the equity ownership.

The difference between percentage of partners and equity ownership is less pronounced at firms with 2–10 CPAs (where 43% of partners and 40% of equity ownership consist of women) and firms with 100 or more CPAs (20% partners, 16% equity ownership).

Firms and leaders of the profession can help women succeed by encouraging them and educating everyone on the business case of why women’s participation is so important, Hooley said. She said women need to understand the value they bring as CPAs and why it’s important for them to stay involved in the profession.

“This is a bigger issue of keeping top talent in the profession,” Hooley said.

The WIEC is committed to promoting and supporting the success of women for the broader purpose of sustaining the profession. Hooley said the WIEC is taking a more prominent position in the AICPA’s work on broader issues, such as the Institute’s efforts in support of young professionals and minorities, and in encouraging people to take the CPA exam.

Women need help in areas such as career advocacy and navigation, access to role models, and career/life integration, according to Hooley. Mentoring has the potential to help women in each of those areas.

The WIEC is supporting mentoring initiatives, including development of an online mentoring program, to provide women the support they need as they advance in the profession. The WIEC is encouraging people to sign up to serve as mentors through the online program to help fill this important need. The committee’s goals also include:

  • Providing credible statistics regarding issues that affect women in the profession, such as the equity partnership metrics.
  • Engaging male leaders to create a more inclusive environment.
  • Creating a community where women can connect and share concerns and best practices.

Hooley said these steps are important because the future of the profession is at stake.

“We’re really looking at it at a much larger perspective than what we were before,” Hooley said. “Before we were looking at it more in terms of, it’s the right thing to do, and it is. But it’s also critically important at this juncture with so many male leaders that will be retiring and the talent pool shrinking. We need everyone involved.”

Ken Tysiac (ktysiac@aicpa.org) is a JofA editorial director.

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