Friday, June 12, 2009

Women Partners vs. Directors

Deloitte LLP’s announcement this week that it had reached the 1,000 mark for U.S. women partners, principals and directors is worthy of note for some not-so-obvious reasons.

The announcement talks about not just equity partners and non-equity partners, but directors as well – a term that’s sure to start an argument over what’s included in the category if you ask more than one firm to supply that figure. “They could all inflate their numbers if we expand the definition to include female directors,” points out Public Accounting Report (PAR) Editor Jonathan Hamilton.

If you’re just counting partners, the Big 4 run about even, according to PAR, which surveyed 171 firms about their percentage of women by staff category in mid-2008.

PAR’s results:

KPMG 18.6 percent
Plante & Moran 18.4 percent
Deloitte 18.1 pecent
CBIZ/MHMcC 18.1 percent
E&Y 17.0 percent
PwC 16.9 percent
Grant Thornton 14.9 percent
BDO Seidman 13.9 percent
RSM McGladrey 14.3 percent

Hamilton points out another potential reason for the increase in women partners: recent layoffs of partners, most of whom are older, white males, which could shift the ratio of male/female partners, even if no new female partners were created.

Going forward, accounting firms that don’t find a way to retain and promote women could find themselves facing serious retention issues due to two factors. First, the ratio of women to men in accounting programs continues to favor women in ever greater numbers, so the inflow of accountants is predominately female.

Second, there’s an exodus of older white males on the horizon. “More CPAs will retire over the next 10 years than retired in the previous 40 years combined,” Hamilton says.

Taken together, these trends mean we’re likely to see firms continue to attempt to position themselves as female-friendly.

Deloitte CEO Barry Salzberg could argue that the 1,000 number touted in this week’s press release really does reflect Deloitte commitment to developing women and minority leaders through its Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women.

After all, it was the first Big Four professional services firm to create an official program for the advancement of high-potential women through training, mentoring, coaching and succession-planning programs.

And, it is the first and only major professional services firm to have a woman chairman, Sharon Allen. In addition, its board of directors has six women -- a female representation of 29 percent.

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