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Taking initiative Featured

10:04am EDT July 22, 2002
How did you identify the need for this initiative at your firm?

We focused on retention and advancement of women when we started seeing statistics coming out of colleges that accounting students were over 50 percent females. But they were entering the accounting field and not staying. Even the accounting students that were choosing public accounting exceeded 50 percent females, so you can see, from a recruiting standpoint and then a retention and advancement perspective, how addressing the women's needs became very important as they became a larger part of our firm.

What programs are now part of the Women's Initiative in Columbus?

We have telecommuting that falls into the flexible work arrangements-which also include part time, flextime, all different kinds of structures. We have people that work 40 hours in busy seasons and less in the summers. We've had people take an 80 percent workload and then dedicate themselves to a particular initiative [outside work] that's important to them.

You might have the concept that it's women that want to go part-time to take care of their children. It's much more broad than that.

Other programs [include] reviews to make certain that there's fairness built into the assignments that women participate in ... so that they are not relegated to low-profile, non-complex types of clients and [thus] not given the chance to advance.

Saturday Play Days, an on-site day care during busy season, is very popular, and we have an annual women's conference on a regional basis.

We also run networking events-some of them are co-ed, some of them are female only-generally with other local banks and law firms that we believe share similar interests and professional challenges that we have here in an accounting firm. The purpose is to interact with other businesspeople and provide opportunities for people to network with a bottom-line goal of business development. That was identified through human-resource surveys where women were not on a level playing ground with men. I think men have just been [networking] for decades and women don't, and so we facilitated activities to somewhat level that playing field.

How have the programs met your goals?

My No. 1 goal was really the education and support. One measurement [of that success] would be the number of individuals participating in the flexible work arrangements. It is increasingly popular [currently about 10 percent of the local firm's employees participate], and that is clearly a measurement that the education and support is being felt by the people that need to actually utilize the program. The other [aspect] I can actually measure is the attendance at the Women's Initiative conference [where 38 of the 42 women eligible-senior accountants, managers, senior managers and partners-attended].

What impact have these programs had on women at your office?

What we have seen is the incoming groups of recruits have actually gone over 50 percent women. We have found this is a phenomenal recruiting tool and retention tool. [In 1993, there were 22 women at the levels of senior accountant and above in the Columbus office; this year, there are 40.]

Retention statistics clearly are evidence that the program's working. [Turnover overall has dropped an average of 1 percent in each of the last three years.]

One woman left the firm for a number of reasons-one was she started a family-[but] she felt the need to be academically stimulated and ⊃ she came back because of the flexible work arrangements that we have.

How did you convince the firm's members to accept and use the programs?

Once you look at turnover statistics, women's promotion percentages, and how many female partners were in our office, it spoke to the fact that women were leaving public accounting. When you get behind the numbers, it's a little easier to convince. It was an educational process that we're still in the process of. By no means have we completed the buy-in and the education that goes behind the initiative. It's improved every single year.