In Catherine Mulder's experience there's no doubt that women in the accounting industry are eager to advance their careers to the highest level. "Our members come to us looking for leadership opportunity, mentorships, and resources for career investment," said Mulder, president of the Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA). "Imagine the possibilities if women could receive these resources through their own work environments."
But how can women, particularly those in smaller firms, convince firm leadership that investing in a good women's initiative—one which can cost their firm thousands of dollars in programs, dedicated staff, targeted coaching and mentoring, and communication support—is worth not just their firm's effort, but its investment as well?
This May, the Accounting MOVE Project released a new report that may give women all the evidence they need to argue the case that a good women's initiative will not only grow the next generation of leaders, but can increase revenue for their firm as well.
In the 2014 Accounting MOVE Project report, released this May, more than 50 firms, including Rothstein Kass and Moss Adams LLP, show the direct return on investment they get for their women's initiatives. (The MOVE acronym comes from the program's metrics: money; opportunity for advancement; vital supports (work-life programs that remove barriers); and entrepreneurship.)
The report tracks the success of women's initiatives through business metrics directly tied to the firm's bottom line, making the business case for integrating women's unique strengths to achieve firm goals.
For Roseland, N.J.-based Rothstein Kass, those results included $6.5 million in new revenue directly generated by its Rainmakers Roundtable, a business development program offered through its women's initiative. Other firms, including CohnReznick, based in Roseland, N.J., and Plante Moran of Southfield, Mich., charted success through new clients won by partner-track women in each industry, office, and practice.
By quantifying the programs that retain and advance women, the MOVE report also shows employers, or anyone who'd like to push the leadership culture at their own firms, the breakdown of women's initiatives that truly work: what strategies retain and engage women, help them advance to partner, and achieve firm goals.
"The survey tries to understand the cultural and business reasons investing in women pays off," said Joanne Cleaver, whose firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., designed and manages the Accounting MOVE Project. "We peel back the factors involved in the initiative and track specific innovations that are promising for women to find what gains traction; what works. Our methodology tracks where women are fully engaged and how much business they are bringing in."
Cleaver emphasizes the report is an analysis of what works based on business data, not a "moral judgment" of what should or could be done for women at the firms. "We translate these initiatives into business results. As such, the initiatives we've studied show all professional firms how to integrate women's unique strengths to achieve firm growth goals," Cleaver said.
The 2014 Accounting MOVE Project report found leading CPA firms are capturing direct return on their women's initiatives by:
- Designing business development programs that blend skills training with highly focused networking events.
- Concentrating skills training and confidence-building experiences at the manager level to ensure that women gain new clients and momentum.
- Scaling programs and accountability by office and practices to make the initiative relevant to firm growth goals.
- Investing in specialized coaching, skills training, cultural assessments, and thought leadership programs to provide tools and context that tie initiatives to firm strategies.
Each initiative has its own unique strengths, Cleaver said, but according to the report the most successful women's initiatives all have that last point in common: They tie business development skills, confidence and experience directly to firm growth.
One of the greatest success stories occurred at Roseland, NJ-based Rothstein Kass where the firm's groundbreaking Rainmakers Roundtables program generated a staggering $6.5 million in new revenue for the firm. This is an example of a firm that linked its women's initiative directly to its core business development objectives and has the numbers to prove how monumentally that can pay off.
According to Melissa Randall, senior manager in charge of Rothstein Kass' women's initiative, the Rainmakers Roundtables training program is one segment of the firm's LIFE (Leadership, Inspiration, Family, and Empowerment) women's initiative, which was founded in 2009 by Rosalie Mandel, CPA, principal in Rothstein Kass' Roseland, N.J. office.
"Revenue generation is important for advancement to partner at any professional services firm. We created the Rainmakers Roundtables to equip women to become business generators, which would help them advance at Rothstein Kass and in the profession more broadly," Randall said. "We asked ourselves, 'How do we help women generate business opportunities on a larger scale? How do we help them become thought leaders and better service our clients?' LIFE's business development platform was created to answer these questions."
The Rainmakers Roundtables are a series of workshops on marketing and business development skills and strategies provided to women managers and senior managers at Rothstein Kass, according to Melissa McClenaghan Martin of M3 Strategic Alliances, the external consultant for LIFE's business development initiatives. The Roundtables address topics like how to refine personal practice and business development plans; craft the "relationship manager" approach to business development; and increase visibility both within and outside the firm.
A key differentiator in the LIFE women's initiative, and its roundtables however, is that the training doesn't stop there. To truly effect change, McClenaghan Martin said, Rothstein Kass recognized it was essential for Rainmakers to consistently implement their new skills with potential clients and sources of referral. To make a habit, in other words, of "the ask."
To that end, Rothstein Kass rolled out the Rainmakers program in conjunction with their Allies Series—a business referral series, which introduces roundtable participants to potential sources of referral, and helps nurture those relationships through a series of facilitated events and meetings while advancing key relationships for the firm.
Since 2009, this dual approach has brought together women from Rothstein Kass and several sources of referral such as law firms and banks, utilizing their women's programs as a point of entry.
"The business development platform of LIFE has two primary goals for Rothstein Kass women," McClenaghan Martin said. "The first is to create a marketing mindset among participants. The second is to craft business development opportunities to give them additional chances to bring in revenue and showcase their expertise."
Looking at the numbers, Rothstein Kass officials say, it's safe to say the Rainmakers have met their mark—and in a way that leaves little room for doubt or detractors.
"Let's face it, in every firm there are going to be some people who are skeptical about women's initiatives, but when they see these results, even they get it," Randall said. "It's hard to argue with $6 million."
Randall believes the Rainmakers succeeded because they pursued opportunities that were "tied directly to Rothstein Kass' core business objectives and strategic goals.
McClenaghan Martin concurs. "This wasn't a one-off," she said. "These women weren't operating in a vacuum. The law firms and banks the Rainmakers pursued were referral sources the firm had strategically marked for new business. Rothstein Kass put these women in situations where they could hone and leverage their skills while pursuing key opportunities designed to actually convert business."
McClenaghan Martin believes Rainmakers was also so successful because the women had numerous opportunities to convert their new business development skills into tested and familiar habits. "The Rainmakers and accompanying Allies Series gave women the chance to consistently use their newly learned skills in real-world scenarios. You can't create a marketing mindset, or any new habit, with one or two attempts. It takes continued attention and practice."
That was certainly the case for one of the Rainmakers Roundtables initial participants, JoLynn Barone, senior manager in the Financial Services Audit Group at Rothstein Kass. Barone said the Rainmakers experience opened her eyes to the possibilities of expanding relationships and taught her how to create new business for the firm, a skill she knows is essential for anyone who hopes to make partner track.
"I have always worked with clients and service providers, but Rainmakers helped me realize how I can stay connected with them to expand business and develop referrals," Barone said. "Rainmakers changed the way I think about the relationships I have, and taught me how to convert my networking opportunities into business contacts. It gave me the awareness, the confidence, and courage to make 'the ask.' Now I can walk into a room and understand how to harness that talent for myself, for my clients, and the firm."
MOVE Project partners include: Moss Adams LLP, Rothstein Kass PC, the Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA), and the American Women's Society of Certified Public Accountants.