Women see far more partnership gains with small firms than with large ones

By Jeff Drew

While women now hold the top U.S. jobs at two of the Big Four accounting firms, smaller firms have made the most progress in bringing women into the partnership ranks, a new AICPA survey shows.

The AICPA CPA Firm Gender Survey, released Monday, found that women hold 43% of the partnership positions at firms employing two to 10 CPAs, and 39% at firms with 11 to 20 CPAs. The percentage of female partners drops to 27% for firms with 21 to 99 CPAs and 20% for firms with 100 or more CPAs.

Women make up 48% of professional staff at U.S. accounting firms but hold 24% of partnership positions, according to the AICPA’s 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits. The partnership share for women rose 5 percentage points, from 19% in the previous Trends survey, conducted two years earlier.

The Gender survey adds to the Trends survey’s findings by examining partnership gender distribution by firm size.  

Deloitte LLP made history earlier this year when Cathy Engelbert, CPA, was elected the firm’s U.S. CEO—becoming the first female U.S. CEO for a Big Four accounting firm. KPMG followed that in April with the election of Lynne Doughtie, CPA, as the firm’s U.S. chairman and CEO.

“We’ve made great progress this year with women filling the top leadership slots at two of the Big Four firms, but there’s still work to do,” said Melissa Hooley, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, in a news release.

The Gender survey drew 955 qualified respondents from CPA firms of varying sizes throughout the United States. The survey has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.4 percentage points. MKTG Inc. conducted the online survey from Aug. 18 to Sept. 6 for the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee.

Among other findings:

  • There is a gender gap in equity ownership at firms, too. Like overall partnership levels, it’s less stark at smaller firms.
  • Firms with formal succession plans rarely have a gender component to leadership transition plans.
  • 55% of firms have partners who use flexible work arrangements, with most taking that path before they became partners. Flexible work arrangements can entail alternative work hours, working remotely, compressed workweeks, and job sharing, among other practices.

Jeff Drew (jdrew@aicpa.org) is a JofA senior editor.

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