By Tina Vasquez

Just three hours after opening registration for the 2010 Accounting MOVE Project, which measures and supports the advancement of women at public accounting firms, a firm by the name of Rothstein Kass registered to participate and initially, this is what grabbed Joanne Cleaver’s attention. Cleaver is the president and founder of the research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, and in partnership with the American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA) and the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA), she has put out the yearly Accounting MOVE report. The annual report highlights the best and the brightest in the accounting profession, while also shedding light on the challenges women in the industry face and the challenges firms face when trying to engage, retain, and advance these women.

During the interview process with members of Rothstein Kass, Cleaver quickly realized that the firm had something special. “As we got to know them and understand their culture, we realized that they were very purposeful and strategic in how they chose to advance their programs,” Cleaver said. “Admittedly their programs are still in the process of rippling through to the top levels. Less than 10 percent of principles at the firm are women – that’s below the norm, but their pipeline is filled with more talented, qualified women than other firms and the number of female principles is set to change in the very near future.”

The reason for this is what Cleaver likes to refer to not as the silver bullet, but as the “silver cannonball.” Three of the biggest challenges accounting firms face are increasing revenue, increasing the number of clients, and retaining women in the pipeline. In the accounting industry women are leaving in droves at the cusp of becoming partner and Rothstein Kass’ Rainmakers Roundtable not only addresses all three of these problems, but it’s a women’s pipeline development program that pays for itself.

Pipeline Program That Pays for Itself

By equipping women on the verge of partnership with key business development skills training, the program helps retain these women, and the dollars they have invested in them. When these women immediately apply what they are learning, the firm captures new clients. New clients grow the firm’s revenues and more than cover the cost of the program – and the firm has the data to back it up. According to Cleaver, nobody outside Rothstein Kass knew about this until it was showcased in the 2010 Accounting MOVE Project Report, which is one reason this yearly study has become so important.

“This is why the report and project exists,” Cleaver said. “It provides a platform and a context for creative and inventive programs coming out of these firms. If you are any type of professional services firm, the model being used by Rothstein Kass will work for you. It’s the right solution at the right time for many firms. If something doesn’t work for women, it doesn’t work for firms and vice versa, but the Rainmakers Roundtable works for both.”

Cleaver and her associates are hoping that the 2011 Accounting MOVE report will be just as insightful, showcasing the innovative ways that employers are advancing women, but this time it will have a new focus: Millennial women. More specifically, the 2011 project will expand on three trends: the 55 percent advantage: engaging, retaining, and advancing generation Y women, the partnership pipeline: coaching, capturing clients, and championing measurement: programs, practices, and policies.

What’s Next for Women in Accounting?

Millennial women have become quite an anomaly; their expectations in the workplace are completely different than those of Baby Boomers and Generation X and the most likely reason for this is technology. Millennial women have grown up with technology; they feel at ease with it and according to Cleaver, expect to be able to telecommute, whereas previous generations thought of this as a privilege to be earned.

“I think millennial women have more fragmented expectations and I’m hoping our 2011 report will teach us more about their independent spirit and what their assumptions are,” Cleaver said. “I’m assuming we’ll see a more modular approach to women’s programs as a result, more points of entry, more on and off points, and new ways to measure the success of programs.”

The 2011 Accounting MOVE report will be released in April. Registration is currently open, with interviews being conducted from December to February. Cleaver urges firms of all sizes to participate, as she hopes to build out the story they discovered with Rothstein Kass.

“Regional firms are small enough to be flexible, but big enough to allow more concentration and a lot of growth,” Cleaver said. “What we’re really hoping to see in 2011 is more examples of how firms are concentrating on helping their female talent make that critical transition from senior manager to partner.”