Rachel Polson, a partner in the Minneapolis office of Baker Tilly, has been a leader in the firm's several-year-old Growth and Retention of Women (GROW) program. More than half of all accountants and auditors are women, but only 20 percent become partners in accounting firms. The partnership number hasn't increased much beyond that at Baker Tilly. However, Polson said more women are remaining with the firm and advancing in leadership positions.
Q: Why is there is a low incidence of female partners/owners at accounting firms?
A: Our people and our clients come first and as such, there are times client requests or project deadlines don't coordinate smoothly with people's personal lives. This makes it hard for both men and women to juggle careers and personal lives. Leaving accounting firms and working at a company, even if the hours are not less overall, may sound better to women since there is generally one client, the company, vs. multiple clients and time-intensive deadlines.
Q: What are the numbers?
A: According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the percentage of new certified public accountants is evenly split among men and women. And women comprise 60.9 percent of all accountants and auditors in the United States. Yet, women account for less than 20 percent of partners in U.S. accounting firms. Firms need to a better job of ensuring these talented individuals stay and continue to contribute to the long-term success of our profession.
Q: Has GROW really succeeded if your female partner percentage is still around the national average of 20 percent?
A: The impact of GROW has been positive for the firm and we are truly beginning to see how our GROW Initiative has impacted employee satisfaction. According to our most recent employee engagement survey, 84 percent of respondents, men and women, believe that Baker Tilly promotes the growth and advancement of women in the firm. And we have been recognized as "A Best Accounting Firm for Women" by the Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance, in 2013 and 2014.
Additionally, there is awareness by senior management of the firm to the importance of having both men and women hold leadership positions within the firm. The numbers don't show how the leadership has changed with women on the board of partners, committees and among the leadership.
Q: What are the roots of GROW?
A: In 2007, the Minneapolis office partners, concerned about the statistics … started an initiative for the women in our office. This initiative was the pilot that transformed into the current GROW program … in the Minneapolis office and across the firm. The firm and its partners want more women to achieve career and personal success at Baker Tilly, with the goal of more female partners and females in leadership positions throughout the firm.
For those women who don't aspire to be a partner, having them stay and contribute to the success of our people and clients is a great benefit. The GROW program has offered great learning opportunities for women through outside speakers discussing relative topics, hosting panel discussions with a mix of partners and firm leaders, networking time, etc. The main point behind the activities is to connect people and have younger staff share career or personal struggles [with] people who have crossed those hurdles.
Q: How did you become a partner?
A: I became a partner in 2007 in the audit practice area. I like technically challenging situations and new projects. My drive to become a partner was the desire to be the final decisionmaker with my clients. I was striving for the opportunity to work directly one-on-one with clients and our staff. Being a partner is a great way to experience being an entrepreneur.
Q: You've talked about your family. Are you able to be a partner and also have a life?
A: Things are more flexible now. I'm not just in my office chair from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. I may start my day working from home and we have women who work less than 40 hours. The ease and use of technology now does make it easier to be a partner. Baker Tilly has great tools and technical solutions for people to work when and where it works for them. We we use instant messaging, plus conference calls for meetings.
These [help] make it realistic for me to drive one of my sons to baseball, tae kwon do, or other activities in the evenings and not feel chained to the office. The days of having to see people physically working in an office are slowly going away. There's a realization that being successful servicing clients or working with staff can happen … remotely and perhaps outside of normal business hours.