Retaining and Advancing Women in the Accounting Profession


According to Catalyst’s statistical overview of Women in Accounting, women are earning more than half of all college degrees in accounting. And while more than half of all accountants and auditors are women and 47% of all professional staff at CPA firms are women, they only make up 22% of partners and principals in the industry. 

Retaining and advancing women in the accounting profession continues to be an issue. However, many firms and organizations are making great strides to ensure that top talent becomes more equally represented by gender—especially one firm in particular. 

Voted a top 10 “Best Public Accounting Firm for Women” two years in a row (2015 and 2016) by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) and American Women’s Society of CPAs (AWSCPA), Burr Pilger Mayer (BPM) has received great recognition in the industry as a leader in providing consistent and measurable progress in advancing women to leadership in the accounting profession. 

To learn more about why it’s important to retain and advance women, as well as how they’re doing it successfully, we spoke to Beth Baldwin, Chief People Officer at BPM. 

What made you decide to work for BPM? 

If you’re in Human Resources, you know that it’s a people business. I decided to work for BPM because that’s exactly what it is. I work with lots of talented people to make sure that our clients are not only serviced well by us, but by the entire value of the firm. And at BPM, that value is that it’s a great place to work and do business with. 

There’s a lot of variety in my job here and I know that I’m fulfilling a great purpose. Many people don’t know that having a good HR team is just as important as having good talent on the accounting side. If you want to have a great work culture, you have to find a team that knows how to hire the right people and develop them. 

What do you think is the most challenging thing women face in the accounting profession? How is BPM working to alleviate these challenges? 

Trying to balance their lives between their career and family. While this is difficult for men and women, it’s especially true for women. When they decide to have a family and are gone on maternity leave for some time, it can be difficult to come back to big assignments and long hours when there’s a little one at home who also needs a large amount of their attention. 

In addition, they may be working for employers who have little room for flexibility, i.e. not allowing their employees to work from home, not being lenient with the duration and length in which they must travel to see clients, and not providing a lot of paid time off. This can definitely contribute to women looking to switch their focus from public accounting to industry jobs, which have more flexibility and a more regular schedule. 

To combat this, BPM launched “BPM FLEX”.  We hire professionals and are giving them an opportunity to spread their billable hours over a week instead of having to record 8 hours a day. By doing this, employees can integrate the things they love into their week such as going to the gym, watching a soccer game, or leaving work early to beat the commute.

In addition, we rolled out the” Parent Project” in 2015 to ensure that new parents do not have to travel too far from home in the first 6 months, can work from home one day a week, and are assigned projects that are not too stressful when they return from paternity or maternity leave. BPM provides new parents with plenty of flexibility to help them balance their life between a career and raising a family. 

To prevent turnover even further, we also provide incoming talent with leadership training early on in their career. We expose them to different clients and develop their soft skills so that by the time they’re at the senior or managerial level, they know what industry they’re passionate about and would like to focus on. In this way, they become specialists in their field, whether it be high tech, craft beer and wine, or financial services, and they’re much more willing to go deeper into their level of expertise and stay in public accounting because they enjoy it and are invested in it. 

BPM was recently named The Best Public Accounting Firm for Women for a second year in a row by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) and American Women’s Society of CPAs (AWSCPA). How does this award help further current internal initiatives for women within BPM? 

While one of our goals is to help retain and advance all of our employees, we realize that women have different challenges we need to focus on since they experience more turnover and drop off than their male counterparts. We’ve learned that 60% of accountants coming out of college are women, yet those numbers drop significantly when it comes to seeing them advance toward leadership and partner roles. Being awarded this title gives us more motivation to help change that. 

One of our programs that supports this is Women’s Initiative Now! (WIN!). This program helps women build their brand by training with an expert on executive presence and building their business development. They also emphasize the importance of self-awareness, being open to feedback, and taking responsibility for things you’re held accountable for. 

Additionally, the program provides 1 on 1 coaching for women who have potential to become partners in the firm. By focusing on relationship building with clients and how to bring in new businesses, WIN! gives women the steps they need to push their careers to the next level. 

How does BPM measure success of these initiatives?  

By looking at the increase of women in partner and leadership roles within our firm, as well as new client bonus programs. So far, 24% of our partners are women, and 31% of our senior leaders (people that run the office and the practice) are women. Our programs help women enter the pipeline and come full circle to make it to partner or higher level positions. 

What is your best advice for firms or other organizations looking to incorporate programs such as yours to help women advance in the accounting profession? 

My best advice is to just do your research and jump in. You won’t always have 100% support from every single person, but at the end of the day, you have to remember that it’s about the bigger picture. We have so many women coming into the profession, but not a big number of them moving up or staying in this career. That to me says we have an issue. 

So start researching and talking to organizations and firms about what you can incorporate in your business to give women incentives to stay and invest in their accounting careers. It may be something you can offer and provide in terms of benefits, training programs, and most likely a combination of both. We believe our key to success is providing women entering the profession with lots of information about what they can specialize in, what industries are out there, and giving them the support and resources they need to advance. 

How do you see your programs evolving in the future? What do you hope to achieve 5, 10, or 20 years from now? 

What we would like to do with our women leadership programs is introduce other women clients to the mix so that upward mobility isn’t just kept internal. 

Additionally, in 5 years, our goal is to have 40% of our partners be women. One way we hope to achieve that is to continue to build BPM as a great place for women to work. As we implement both old and new programs, we hope this will not only build our culture for our staff overall, but especially help retain and advance women in the profession where they are much needed. 

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