Apple Growth Partners

Want to empower women in your accounting firm? Do it on their terms.

This article is produced by Apple Growth Partner’s women business owner team – more than 30 female financial professionals dedicated to growing the businesses of women entrepreneurs.

Parents of children with different genders know all too well how distinct girls and boys can be to raise. There is no cookie-cutter pattern for raising different genders in one household. What works for the daughter may not work for the son. Even memorable milestones may be treated entirely different by girls and boys.

The same theory can be applied in the workforce – women in the workplace call for tailored benefits and scheduling structures to help grow their career. Studies show women bring key attributes to the table that their male counterparts may not – better listening, calmness in crisis, diplomatic, and can manage teams better. Women make up more than half of graduates from accounting programs; however, only 22 percent of partners in US accounting firms are female. What’s happening?

It’s simple – women are facing the ‘motherhood penalty.’

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s reported firms lose 17% of female employees by mid-career, the same point in time when women may choose to have a baby. While both parents are critical in early life development, the mother is often impacted the most – having to take time off to physically heal from birth, along with the demanding hours of around-the-clock feedings. Addressing the data found in accounting, how do firms both keep females on their team while supporting their growing family? The answer is flexibility – employers need to adapt to the requirements of female employees that strive to both work and raise children by throwing out the mindset of “normal/mandatory business hours.”

Apple Growth Partners (AGP) is an outlier in mid-sized accounting and business advisory firms. With more than 100 employees, the award-winning firm based in Akron, Ohio, announced a paid parental leave program in 2018. With the state of Ohio not requiring employers to offer such lucrative benefits, the program benefiting both female and male employees with up to 10-weeks of paid time off is unheard of in similar-sized firms. Step two of AGP’s commitment to flexibility is the adaptation of flexible hours for client-facing staff. Instead of the typical 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. required office hours during busy season (January – April 15), employees are empowered to work 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the office and equipped with the technology needed to work from home for additional hours needed. It’s not just the change in hours that matters to employees; it’s the trust of the firm’s leadership.

“From a single mother with a 14-year old daughter at home, the fact that I am held accountable at my firm is a luxury that I do not take for granted,” states tax supervisor Kristy Angerstien. “Being able to work from home if my daughter is sick, has a snow day, or on a non-school day makes me happier and more productive. Without being able to work from home or remotely, it would be very difficult.”

Angerstien’s colleagues agree – the flexibility offered by AGP allows females to be productive on their terms, successfully maintaining their career while simultaneously raising a family. Providing flexibility has been proven to keep women in the workplace.

“When I first started in public accounting, I recall spending long days in busy season at the client location, then heading back to the office to work into the evenings. Those were long, hard days,” comments Krista Steedly, a supervisor in AGP’s audit and assurance department. “A few years into my career, I recall asking a principal at the firm if I could work from home in the evenings of busy season. His response to me was that regardless of where I worked, he trusted that I was going to get my work done in a timely manner.”

Flexibility requires trust from the employer. Companies that require employees to constantly check in regarding their whereabouts while working remotely is counterproductive.

“As a step-mom, I have left work early, missed networking events, or worked from home because of my step daughter’s schedule or custody-related issues,” states Bethany Dria, senior associate in business valuation. “Despite a standard schedule dictated by the courts, there are sudden changes and emergencies that seem to pop up throughout the year, with little to no notice. At AGP, I’ve never had to worry about how these events may be perceived. I have enjoyed the benefit of my employer so focused on the employee, that I know the response will be “Go, do what you need for your family”. Having the flexibility to respond to life events reminds me that we are humans, not robots.”

For Apple Growth Partners, continuing to recruit, retain, and nurture female employees is critical for the firm. Chairman Chuck Mullen recognizes the evolving needs of the workforce and collaborates with the firm’s executive committee to adopt updated benefits. Implementing flexible hours in 2019 was the first step in supporting remote work during the firm’s busiest time of year.

“Having the flexibility to respond to these actions and do what is best for my family without fear of reprisal at work is without a doubt the best employee benefit that exists for me,” says Dria.

Women are crucial in building a diverse and dynamic workplace. Adopting flexible requirements results in trust, retention, productivity, and satisfaction. Times are changing, and accounting firms need to change the standards to support women’s need for flexibility.