Hollinden Inbound Marketing for Professional Service Firms

Assumptions (aka Pigeonholing)

CPA Leadership

Each morning, I receive Inc. This Morning, a short read which highlights today's business issues. This morning's issue was called "Pigeonholing." The opening line reads: "Compared to a decade ago, more than double the number of women are leading the country's top 3,000 companies." Sounds promising, right? Not so fast. The next paragraph goes on to say that out of the top 3,000 companies, only 167 are women-led. It's quoting a story published in The Wall Street Journal that, in summary, says women are often pigeonholed in mid-level positions, running departments (like HR, marketing, legal, etc) that do not generate profits. It's not because the companies think the women in those positions aren't doing a good job. In fact, the study says it's quite the opposite. Women get stuck in those positions because their male bosses think they are too good to move elsewhere.

In the accounting world, the issue of women in leadership roles is even more pronounced. Of the approximately 42,000 accounting firms in the United States, only 22% partners are female. Just 4 of the top 100 largest accounting firms in the U.S. are led by women. Comparing leadership statistics to graduation statistics, it's easy to see that something is inherently wrong. According to the latest AICPA report, females represent 47% of accounting undergrads and 51% of graduate students.

Recruiting is an issue across all firms of all sizes. Retaining top talent (male or female) is an issue. I think the two issues are related. Perhaps accounting firms should take a lesson from the Hershey company (female led, by the way). Their executive team meets five times per year to discuss top performers and the career-critical assignments needed to accelerate their careers. I'm not suggesting that leadership of CPA firms should meet five times per year, but what I am suggesting is this:

  1. Evaluate the Culture. Take a hard look at cultural norms. In fact, have someone from the outside evaluate your culture. It could be as simple as improving communication processes or as complex as a cultural overhaul, but you never know if you don't ask.
  2. Identify Hidden Biases. Don't assume that an assignment that requires travel would be a burden to a female employee with young children. Ask. Offer. 
  3. Watch for Clusters. Is there a tendency for the men to go to lunch together or hang out after work? Expand the invitation list. Make a concerted effort to include others in the conversation. 
  4. Build Leaders. While some may argue that leaders are born not made, I side with behavioral theorists who say that leaders are created through teaching, learning, and observation opportunities. Provide the opportunities for next generation leaders in your firm to grow. Mentor. Discuss a leadership book (Good to Great by Jim Collins, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, or Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler). Take future leaders with you to meetings and networking events. Encourage them to join organizations and take a leadership role. Encourage them to have a coach. 

There is one thing for certain, continuing to do things the same way will simply perpetuate the problem.