insight magazine

GEN NEXT: 4 Steps for Developing Initiatives That Move the Needle

These simple steps can help you turn your passion and desire for making a positive change in the accounting profession into a reality. By Emily Bartlett, CPA | Summer 2022

It was mid-2013, and I had finished my fifth busy season in public accounting as an auditor. I was moving up the ranks and earned a promotion to the senior level, but I was still unsure of where my career was heading. I had seen some of my closest female colleagues leave the firm at an alarming rate, which led to reservations as to whether I could succeed long term as a woman in public accounting. Since I had never been one to doubt what I was capable of before, the questions and reservations I unexpectedly had meant I had to act quickly—the doubts needed to end.

Without fully knowing where to begin, I turned to one of my mentors for assistance and inspiration. What followed was her not only helping me launch the first women’s initiative at my firm, CDH, but she also helped me break down the planning process into four straightforward steps that made it—and me—a success. Here they are:

1. Research and brainstorm. To better understand our starting point, and to pinpoint our future expected outcome, we needed to perform some research. Our research included reviewing the history of women in the accounting profession, statistics of women in our firm specifically, and initiatives started in other firms and organizations that we could leverage. We then spent time with other stakeholders interested in advancing women in the profession to brainstorm ideas for a name and both short-term and long-term goals.

2. Create a vision and a mission. Once the initial brainstorming was completed, creating a clear vision and mission was imperative. This step focused on defining the purpose of the initiative and the desired outcome. Defining the mission allowed us to turn focused objectives into strategic goals and action plans. Our strategies included having a proper governance structure to oversee our action plans, as well as subcommittees to focus on specific areas of the initiative, like career advocacy, visibility of female leaders, and career/life integration.

3. Obtain support and buy-in from leadership. We knew support from leadership was needed to guarantee our initiative could make the impact we desired. To ensure that we earned the buy-in from the firm’s leaders, we put together a presentation that outlined the business drivers behind our initiative that would resonate with our audience. A few of the drivers we identified were the costs of turnover (both quantitative and qualitative), the connection to the firm’s vision statement and scorecard, and the firm’s ability to market itself positively.

4. Launch and revisit as needed. After receiving leadership’s support, we scheduled an official launch date to communicate our women’s initiative and its mission, vision, and goals to the rest of the firm. That was just the beginning, though. Today, we continue to meet as a full committee and with our subcommittees to revise and adapt our action steps as necessary to keep the “Women LEAD at CDH” initiative working toward the ultimate vision of embracing the leadership (L), empowerment (E), advancement (A), and development (D) of women within the firm.

While my experience following these steps was connected with creating and launching a firmwide women’s initiative, there are endless possibilities for innovation and change in the accounting profession. Whether it be for a short-term project or an ongoing initiative, following these simple steps could help you turn a passion or desire for positive change into an action plan that moves the needle, not just in your organization, but across the accounting profession.

Emily Bartlett, CPA, is a senior manager in CDH’s Assurance department and leads the firm’s “Women LEAD at CDH” initiative. She is an active Illinois CPA Society member and a winner of its 2022 Women to Watch Award in the Emerging Leader category.

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  1. Mary Sheridan | Jul 09, 2022
    Fantastic article!!! Inspirational. 

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