By Deanna Arteaga

AccountingWeb, November 28, 2017 —


If your firm wants to gain an edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent in this intensely competitive job market, demonstrating an official commitment to women in leadership, whether that’s through a formal mentoring program or a full-on women’s initiative, may be one of the most effective incentives in your compensation package, according to a new survey from the AICPA.

2017 CPA Firm Gender Survey

The 2017 CPA Firm Gender Survey , released November 9 during the AICPA’s annual Women’s Global Leadership Summit, found that U.S. CPA firms that use advancement programs for promoting women to leadership positions overwhelmingly view them as effective tools in recruiting and retaining talent.

Mentorship is by far the most popular advancement program, with 45 percent of firms using it, the 2017 CPA Firm Gender Survey found. Sponsorship, in which influential firm leaders take a more formal role in guiding promising employees to career opportunities, professional development, and promotions, is used by 12 percent of firms.

“There are two important takeaways here: 1.) firms that use these programs have seen a beneficial impact on attracting and retaining talent,” said Melissa K. Hooley, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee. “And 2.) firms that are taking active steps to promote women and minorities likely will have a competitive advantage when it comes to securing talent.”

According to the AICPA, the survey defined mentorship programs as “formal programs that match an employee with a peer or supervisor who can provide emotional support, advice, and focus on personal and professional development.”

Unfortunately, the survey shows little has changed when it comes to the actual number of women achieving leadership roles in the profession.

The news is more encouraging at smaller firms, however, where women are breaking though in greater numbers. As was the case two years ago – the last time the CPA Firm Gender Survey was conducted – the percentage of women partners (42 percent) was found to be highest at smaller firms.

*Results in parentheses from 2015 CPA Firm Gender Survey

Yasmine El-Ramly, senior manager of global alliances for the AICPA, says the culture at smaller firms creates an optimal environment for women who want to achieve leadership. “Smaller firms have the advantages of easier access to firm leaders, more flexibility, and work life integration,” El-Ramly says.

“Women in smaller firms can make a difference in their clients’ life and cultivate relationships with their clients over the years. They can get an in depth knowledge of their client’s overall business, but also better understand the risk and audit procedures that are involved,” El-Ramly says. “In larger firms that service complex clients, a staff can be assigned to specific accounts for the duration of the audits without understanding the bigger picture.”

Smaller firms also tend to service more local clients, reducing the amount of business travel and overnight stays which can be attractive to many candidates, she adds.

Smaller firms – firms that don’t have the same dollars to allocate to recruiting as mega-firms – can use this proven track record with women in leadership to their advantage when it comes to hiring top talent, El-Ramly says, whether that talent is a recent college grads or an established CPA hoping to switch for greater opportunity.

Other findings of CPA Firm Gender Survey include:

  • An analysis of job titles found that women maintained parity or better with men in CPA firms through the senior manager level, after which the ratio declines
  • The larger the firm, the greater the gender gap in equity ownership
  • Only 47 percent of firms have a succession plan and only two percent have a formal gender component in those plans
  • Some 89 percent of firms say they have instituted some form of modified work arrangements, with flextime and reduced hours being the most prevalent

The CPA Firm Gender Survey was conducted online by MKTG Incorporated for the AICPA’s Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee from August 3 to September 11, 2017. Some 492 qualified respondents, drawn from CPA firms of varying sizes and regions within the United States, participated.

For further information on how to jumpstart a women’s initiative at your firm, to refresh the initiative currently at your firm, or other resources visit