CPA firms find that advancement programs boost recruiting, retention

By Ken Tysiac

CPA firms that use advancement programs for their professionals overwhelmingly agree that formal promotion of mentoring, sponsorship, and gender and minority initiatives helps them attract and retain people, according to a new AICPA survey.

In an environment where competition for skilled professionals is intense, many firms have embraced programs that are designed to help their people advance. These programs are rated as a success by a large majority of people at firms that use them.

Almost half (45%) of the 492 respondents to the AICPA's 2017 CPA Firm Gender Survey said their firms are using mentoring programs. A much smaller portion of firms (12%) use sponsorship programs, in which firm leaders take a formal role in guiding promising employees to career opportunities, professional development, and promotions.

Gender initiatives (11%), combined diversity and inclusion programs (6%), and minority initiatives (2%) also are used by firms. Among survey respondents whose firms use these programs, the portion who said it has an impact on attracting or retaining talent was:

  • 87% for mentoring programs.
  • 97% for sponsorship programs.
  • 85% for gender initiatives.
  • 90% for combined diversity and inclusion programs.
  • 90% for minority initiatives.

"There are two important takeaways here," Melissa Hooley, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, said in a news release. "One, firms that use these programs have seen a beneficial impact on attracting and retaining talent. And two, firms that are taking active steps to promote women and minorities likely will have a competitive advantage when it comes to securing talent."

Smaller firms tend to have the highest percentage of women partners, according to the survey. Women make up 42% of partners at firms with two to 10 CPAs; 30% of partners at firms with 11 to 20 CPAs; 26% of partners at firms with 21 to 99 CPAs, and 21% of partners at firms with 100 or more CPAs. These figures were nearly identical to those from the 2015 CPA Firm Gender Survey, except for the percentage of women partners at firms with 11 to 20 CPAs (which fell nine percentage points from 39% in 2015).

The survey also found that women maintained parity with men at CPA firms through the senior manager level, with the percentage of women declining at higher levels after that. And almost nine in 10 (89%) of firms have instituted some form of modified work arrangements, of which flextime and reduced hours were the most popular.

Ken Tysiac ( is a JofA editorial director.

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