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International Women’s Day is always a great day to celebrate not only how far we have come, but for spreading the word about how far we still have to go in the treatment of female talent in general, but especially within the accounting profession.

If you talk to almost any female professional, I guarantee you she will have a story of not only pay inequality or harassment but also inequality in treatment in the workplace. Personally, I have experienced all three as a corporate accountant. All started once I had decided to start a family.

Out of my four pregnancies, I have had one paid maternity leave thanks to short-term disability. I was asked to work while on unpaid maternity leave one week after having my baby. I have been told that I wasn’t being a team player after standing my ground and telling my boss no, that I am not available until my six weeks of unpaid leave is up. There are other incidents that I could share, but the thing is, my stories are far too familiar within corporate America, especially within the accounting industry.

Joey Havens wrote this article recently in which he shared the story of two rising stars within the accounting industry and their firms. The first rising star Joey wrote about was on the fast track to becoming a partner in the firm prior to the birth of her first child. She took a reduced work schedule upon the arrival of her first child, and even though she performed at a very high level and her evaluation was outstanding, she was told that she wasn’t eligible for a bonus, promotion or pay raise until she returned to a normal work schedule.

The other woman he wrote about was pregnant with her first child when her firm signed one of the biggest clients in their history. This firm is one in which she started her growing career and had dedicated years of her career to. She was told that this client was hers and would help her advance to partner. However, this client agreement dictated that work be performed onsite, and their office was two hours away from her home, leading to a four-hour commute for not just a new mom but a dedicated employee. This employee ended up having an automobile accident due to the demands of being a mom to a newborn and a four-hour commute each day. Upon addressing the situation with her management team, she was told that she always had the choice to leave.

Both of these talented women made the decision to move on from their firms that they had not only dedicated years to but held positions that they performed at high levels at. Both of these women did not leave the profession, thankfully, but their firms missed out on retaining not only top talent but morale with the other employees and resulted in at least one other employee leaving.

What if the pronoun used in these stories was “him” instead of “her?” Does that change the way you feel inside about the outcome of these two stories? I’m going to copy and paste the same story that I highlighted above below with the pronouns changed. Read it again and see if you instinctively have a different reaction.

Joey Havens wrote this article recently sharing the story of two rising stars within the accounting industry and their firms. The first rising star Joey wrote about was on the fast track to becoming a partner in the firm prior to the birth of his first child. He took a reduced work schedule upon the arrival of his first child, and even though he performed at a very high level and his evaluation was outstanding he was told that he wasn’t eligible for a bonus, promotion or pay raise until he returned to a normal work schedule.

The other man he wrote about in the article was expecting his first child when his firm signed one of the biggest clients in their history. This firm is one that he started his growing career in and dedicated years of his career to. He was told that this client was his and would help his advance to partner. However, this client agreement dictated that work be performed onsite and their office was two hours away from his home leading to a four hour commute for not just a new dad but a dedicated employee. This employee ended up having an automobile accident due to the demands of being a dad to a newborn and a 4 hour commute each day. Upon addressing the situation with his management team he was told that he always had the choice to leave.

Both of these talented men made the decision to move on from their firms that they had not only dedicated years to but held positions that they performed at a high-level at. Both of these men did not leave the profession, thankfully, but their firms missed out on retaining not only top talent but morale with the other employees and resulted in at least one other employee leaving.

Do you feel any different about the story with the pronouns changed?

As you can see from these two stories, regardless of the pronouns used, the industry has a long way to go when it comes to not only talent retention but retention of top talent. The firms mentioned in the above story missed out on two talented employees leaving and historically, these situations have affected more women than men.

What can firms do to increase top talent retention or advance women in the workplace?

There are a few things like MWAs (modified work arrangements), gender diversity initiatives, as well as mentoring and sponsorship programs. Anita Dennis addressed these ideas in an article written for the Journal of Accountancy here.

What she found was that according to the AICPA’s 2019 CPA Firm Gender Equality Survey that firms are taking proactive steps to attract, retain and advance women. Ninety-four percent of firms offer some form of MWA, such as flex time, reduced hours or telecommuting. These retention tools are not only showing to be effective but they are being used by 50 percent of partners.

Mentoring and sponsorship programs are noted as beneficial talent retention programs in the article but the survey showed that not many firms had embraced this type of program yet. The reasons why is not clear in the survey but upon diving into the research she saw that the benefits of such programs far outweigh any of the cons and should be the focus of firm leaders when looking to implement talent retention programs.

The last program Ania wrote about, gender diversity initiatives, provided tangible advantages, including enhanced attraction and retention of high-quality people. This type of program is important because people want to feel valued. Burn-out, leaving for better pay or better work life balance is caught right away when this type of program is implemented.

These retention programs are just a few of ways that firms are not only retaining top female talent but advancing them in their career. You can read the full article that Anita wrote here .

What ways have you seen firms taking steps forward to not only retain top talent but advance women in the workplace?

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