The Partners recognized that many women were leaving the firm as they approached manager level. Our profession, as well as our firm, did not have positive statistics when it came to women in management positions. We needed to back up the conversation to earlier than an exit interview to understand the “why” so we would fully understand what needed to change.
In 2011, AAFCPAs’ Co-Managing Partner, Carla McCall established the AAFCPAs Women’s Opportunity Network (AAF-WON), a forum to discuss issues faced by women in the profession. The focus was on career advocacy and advancement.
We developed a charter that had three primary focuses – Advocacy, Education, and Communication. We enlisted a Board that was made up of female middle management, which provided them with an active voice and role in leading the cultural shift.
AAF-WON started with quarterly, women-only roundtables, which served as the primary forum providing partners with the critical feedback needed to identify why women were not seeing AAFCPAs as a viable long-term career path. This resulted in the adoption of numerous policies by the firm which helped increase retention significantly.
Having partner champions was a critical component of success. These champions facilitated consistent discussions related to the business case and why retaining and advancing women in leadership was important to the firm. AAF-WON provided a culturally accepted way for women to meet, mentor, and sponsor each other’s development. It has provided leadership opportunities for participants to plan and lead firm wide initiatives and events. While the roundtables are designed exclusively for female employees, all other events (guest speakers, panel discussions, etc.) are open to all team members.
Programs are designed to address identified needs, including: strategies to achieve work-life balance; asking for what you want professionally; seeking intentional experiences; giving & receiving feedback; navigating candid conversation; business development coaching; negotiation skills; achieving visibility; taking credit for your accomplishments; and leading with authenticity.
Female leadership in the firm has increased from 25% in 2011 to 44.4% in 2019.
Our Women’s Opportunity Network initiated the regular conversations that needed to happen, especially at the partner level, to change our culture and to overcome conscious and unconscious biases that existed in relation to women’s pursuit of leadership.