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10 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women in 2015

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Jul 29th 2015
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Now in its sixth year, the Accounting MOVE Project, which surveys leading financial and accounting firms to determine the state of women in the industry, reported a significant boost in the proportion of women partners and principals at the 47 CPA firms participating in the 2015 project – an average of 22 percent, up from 17 percent five years ago.

That means the standards were even higher for the 10 firms named to the 2015 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women list, sponsored by the Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA) and the American Woman's Society of CPAs. The annual list, which is based on results from the Accounting MOVE Project research, was released on June 2 in conjunction with the annual MOVE report.

According to the AFWA, the 10 firms named to the 2015 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women list embrace the same three characteristics when it comes to the advancement of women.

They all demonstrate:

  • Consistent, measurable progress in advancing women.
  • Proven and continually evolving programs that retain and advance women.
  • Evidence that the firm's advancement of women is intrinsic to its growth and succession goals.

“Women's initiatives can have a permeating effect on a firm's culture, leadership pipeline, and overall growth, and we've seen that impact with our own WomenCAN initiative,” said Risa Lavine, a principal and chief of staff at CohnReznick LLP, one of the 10 firms named to the list. “We are proud to sponsor the MOVE Project as it continues to highlight not only the best firms, but also best practices that inspire and help move the needle.”

The 2015 Best Public Accounting Firms for Women are:

Burr Pilger Mayer Inc., San Francisco: Young staff get a fast start with the firm's new skills development program. The firm's partner-track women accelerate progress with training and individual coaching that wraps presentation skills with personal brand strategy.

CohnReznick, New York: Office and managing partners are using the CohnReznick women's initiative for finding and developing rising talent, integrating the initiative with the firm's client-service goals. The firm has gained a bird's-eye view of culture change by asking about the perception and results of women's development programs via a firmwide culture survey and on-going dialogue with key stakeholders.

Lurie Besikof Lapidus & Co. LLP, Minneapolis: Managing Partner Beth Kieffer Leonard detects a tipping point: “There's such a shortage that firms are getting much more realistic about what it takes to invest in millennials and women.” Lurie Besikof Lapidus has a very high retention rate with its innovative “futurecasting” program for promising associates.

Mahoney Ulbrich Christiansen Russ PA, Minneapolis: Roz Allyson, the firm's newly appointed managing partner, recently merged back into a full-time schedule after years of flexible hours and alternative schedules, illustrating that the firm offers numerous success tracks. The firm's default work arrangement is flexible, with each staffer deciding annually on his or her custom plan for the next 12 months.

Moss Adams LLP, Seattle: With women comprising 26 percent of its partners, Moss Adams is reaping the benefits of its seven-year investment in Forum W, its firmwide initiative to advance women at all levels. Recent innovations include integrating accountability into partners' goals by specifically asking partners whom they will sponsor. This demonstrates a deeper investment in Forum W and the firm's overall diversity and inclusion efforts.

OUM & Co. LLP, San Francisco: About 10 years ago, OUM & Co. partners made three changes that resulted in its achievement of 30 percent women partners and principals:

  • Talent development was counted in compensation calculations.
  • Each partner was required to develop an operational expertise that supported firm sustainability.
  • The firm created two tracks to partnership – equity and income – allowing for expedited promotion to partner, with business development skills cultivated accordingly.

Plante Moran PLLC, Southfield, Michigan: Plante Moran's firmwide strategy includes a local component that ensures that every Plante Moran office has a champion for its women, and that women across the firm network internally and externally.

Rehmann, Troy, Michigan: Rehmann is not the only firm where women comprise more than half of its senior managers, but it's one of the few that propels many of them to partnership thanks to an intensive, one-year development program. Firm leaders ensure that women with alternative arrangements have scaled opportunities for advancement.

The Bonadio Group, Pittsford, New York: Alternative work arrangement? That's no barrier to the partner track at Bonadio. Women on part-time schedules and nontraditional career paths aren't precluded from participating in firm leadership, and some have achieved partner level. In fact, women comprise 31 percent of the firm's partners and principals.

Yeo & Yeo CPAs & Business Consultants, Saginaw, Michigan: Career paths are not do-it-yourself at Yeo & Yeo, thanks to maps and structures that show employees multiple proven routes to success. Yeo & Yeo's Career Advocacy Team and mentor program provide robust career coaching to help employees grow as future leaders.

Despite the impressive accomplishments of these firms, and the fact the MOVE Project continues to report improvement for women in the accounting field, there is still much work to do to advance women in the industry overall, said AFWA Executive Director Ericka Harney.

“AFWA and the MOVE Project are dedicated to efforts that empower women in the industry and assist in advancing women to senior roles with equal pay,” she said.

Three Trends Emerge
According to Joanne Cleaver, president of Wilson-Taylor Associates Inc., the content and communications firm that manages the Accounting MOVE Project, three top trends emerged from the 2015 Accounting MOVE Project Report:

1.Pay equity. Pay equity is the topic that won't go away, Cleaver said. Celebrities and politicians are advocating for pay-equity transparency and accountability, and CPA firms have a chance to make pay equity a point of strength and trust. CPA firm staff, in particular, Cleaver said, appreciate knowing what the process is and how leadership analyzes pay data to catch and correct any gender-pay inequities. Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, for example, is very open with staff about its compensation structure, what market rates are, and how managers calculate pay decisions, Cleaver said.

2.Early involvement. Networking and business development training is becoming more democratic at CPA firms, as firms include millennials and senior staff earlier in their careers with scaled training and networking opportunities. Progressive firms, including Moss Adams and CohnReznick, design their women's initiatives with developmental opportunities for young women. This early business development success creates momentum that can keep women on the partner track throughout their careers, Cleaver said.

3.Women's initiatives as growth drivers. Firms that have gained momentum in their advancement of women use their women's initiatives as strategic growth drivers.

“Women are a differentiating factor for firms competing intensely for new clients,” Cleaver said. “Most employers are concerned with advancing women, and they want to do business with CPA firms that share those values.”

The 2015 Accounting MOVE Project results are based on surveys and interviews with 47 firms that employ a total of 21,664 employees. Research was conducted from November 2014 through March 2015.

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