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AICPA women's summit held in October; new chair Leslie Murphy chairs event.

"Helping Women Professionals Succeed" was the theme of the first AICPA Women's Summit, which took place in Oct. and was chaired by the Institute's new chair of the board, Leslie Murphy. Women are entering the accounting profession in increasing numbers--currently totaling more than 50% of all accounting graduates.

The summit, hosted by the AICPA Work/Life & Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, brought together firm managing partners, human resources professionals and female CPAs to share ideas and devise strategies about the retention and advancement of women. Presenters included researchers, human resource and work-life professionals and CPA firm representatives. Here are some highlights:

* There is a strong business case for recruiting and retaining women. Women are expected to make up 48% of the labor force in 2008. Within the profession, 57% of the accounting degrees awarded in 2002 went to women. Still, for programs to work, senior leadership buy-in is crucial.

* An increasing number of clients will likely be women, too. More than one-half of the 10.6 million private companies in the U.S. are owned by women. These companies account for over $2 trillion in sales and employ 19 million people. Within larger companies, a greater number have women directors and 51% of the positions that fall two levels below the executive level are held by women.

* Lower turnover leads to lower costs. Hands-on management efforts, although initially time-consuming, provided a positive return on investment and increased productivity, morale and retention.

There are numerous barriers to women's advancement. Women are more likely than men to leave an organization to develop new skills or for greater advancement, but less likely to depart for greater compensation. A lack of line experience is one serious barrier to women's advancement. In fact, research shows that women held less than 10% of corporate line positions in 2002.

Other obstacles for women include exclusion from informal business networks, gender-based stereotypes, lack of role models, the failure to promote women, and personal and family responsibilities. Women of color face even greater hurdles.

Mentors can help offset some of the obstacles to advancement. However, in their careers and their mentoring relationships, women have different expectations, a greater willingness to accommodate, the likelihood of greater parenting responsibilities in their personal lives and gender-related workplace constraints.

Women also have different leadership approaches: Men favor taking credit for their accomplishments and maintaining their own visibility, while women often emphasize giving credit and focus on the process rather than the accomplishment.

Regarding recruitment and retention, the summit uncovered:

* Flexibility is an important issue for all firms

* Companies should regard flexible work options as a reward or strategic incentive.

* Employees value organizations that provide opportunities.

* It is important to manage change.

In the end, by instituting flexible schedules, professional networks and child care support initiatives as part of an effort to address turnover problems, firms can significantly cut turnover rates and increase the number of women partners. More information on related AICPA initiatives can be found at
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Publication:CPA Letter
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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