As March 8 marks International Women’s Day, the Association of International CPAs shared a number of tips for firms to better support and advance female professionals.
“The global pandemic has highlighted the balancing act that women have performed for years managing their work and family lives,” said Crystal Cooke, director of diversity and inclusion for the Association and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, in a statement. “It’s incumbent that organizations recognize the challenges women face in their career progression and put practices into place to support their success.”
The focus on female professionals comes at a time when women make up more than half of all staff members in U.S. firms, but represent less than a quarter of partners and executive leadership. A report from the California Society of CPAs and the Institute of Management Accountants also found that 43 to 55 percent of female, nonwhite and LGBTQIA respondents polled have left a U.S. accounting firm due to a perceived lack of equitable treatment.
The AICPA offers the following tips, based on responses from the recipients of its 2020 Most Powerful Women in Accounting Awards:
- Be flexible: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to change the way we work and manage our lives. A study by McKinsey & Company found that 70 percent of women said childcare was their biggest concern compared to 40 percent of men. Employers should understand the added stress that comes from managing household responsibilities with the demands of work. This will likely require thinking outside the box for equitable and realistic solutions, such as flexible workhours or split days.
- Make it OK to say “no”: Create an environment where those who are overwhelmed feel safe, and will not feel penalized or judged, for saying “no” to additional projects or responsibilities. Encourage women to ask for help when they need it and the option of taking wellness breaks to move, meditate, practice gratitude and embrace this time with their families.
- Offer support: Show concern for your employees and offer them the support they need. Ask the important questions and really listen to responses: “How are you doing?” and “What can we do to assist you?” Then find a way to provide the support needed, which again could be unconventional.
- Emphasize well-being and self-care: For nearly a year, your employees have largely lived the same day over and over. Many are juggling all their responsibilities, which have now seeped into their workday and therefore resulted in no boundaries. It’s important that you help the women in your organization find ways to successfully manage their mental health, stress and energy levels and to take some joy out of each day.
- Be more inclusive: Look around you in important leadership meetings — online or in person. Are women and people of color (POC) well-represented? If not, reshape your invitation lists and include women and POC in meetings where strategy, vision and business critical decisions are being made, even if they aren’t partners yet. If you are unsure of how inclusive your organization is, the AICPA’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model can help identify areas of improvement.