Report Finds Women Advanced at Accounting Firms Despite Pandemic Disruptions

Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
Oct 20, 2021


According to a recently published Accounting MOVE Project report, accounting firms continued to promote women to senior leadership during the pandemic. This year, women represent 32 percent of partners and principals at the firms that participated in the Accounting MOVE Project, up from 29 percent in 2020. Firms that already had women-friendly remote work protocols in place before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began experienced a significant advantage when the firms shifted suddenly to work-from-home policies. 

The Accounting MOVE Project is based on the MOVE methodology, developed by research partner Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., which investigates the factors proven to be essential to women’s career success. These are: M – Money: fair pay practices; O – Opportunity: advancement and leadership development; V – Vital supports: work-life programs that remove barriers; E – Entrepreneurship: operating experience for managing or business ownership. The project’s partners in the report were professional services firm Moss Adams, the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, and webinar presenter 

Among the report’s findings with regard to money/ pay equity policies and practices were the following: 45 percent of firms now track pay equity for new hires, compared to 41 percent in 2020; 59 percent now track pay equity by firm department, up from 55 percent in 2020; and  45 percent apply pay equity audits and analysis on an “as needed” basis, down from 69 percent in 2020. 

With regard to opportunities for advancement, the report found that 93 percent  of firms offer online training in leadership development skills, up from 86 percent in 2020; 86 percent  now bring in external coaches for focused improvement in partnership candidates, compared to 76 percent in 202 ; and 59 percent of firms now deliberately draw rising women into client-facing roles, compared to 52 percent in 2020.  

As for vital supports for work/life programs, the report found that 28 percent of firms now offer employee resource groups for Black employees, up from 21 percent in 2020;  28 percent offer employee resource groups for working parents, up from 21 percent in 2020; and 66 percent now train managers in the specific skill of managing remote teams, up from 45 percent in 2020. 

With regard to entrepreneurship and business development, the report found that 48 percent of firms collaborate with local groups that support women and/or minority-owned small businesses, up from 38 percent in 2020, and that 62 percent use that support of local entrepreneurs in marketing, up from 52 percent in 2020. Yet it also found that 48 percent specifically use internal employee resource groups in that same marketing to local entrepreneurs, down from 62 percent in 2020.  

The MOVE Project also surveyed participants about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) matters. The report found that “MOVE Project firms largely stayed the course with employee resource groups devoted to supporting the career ambitions of ethnic minorities; women; LGBTQ; veterans; and other historically under-represented groups. But seven firms that previously had taken a minimalist approach to formal programs instituted multi-dimensional diversity efforts that span all groups and identities and invested heavily with full-time, dedicated staff and budgets.” 

“The seismic shift to remote work has realigned the recruiting landscape,” the report continued. “The chronic competition for talent now has no geographic boundaries —a dynamic that cuts both ways: firms must compete nationwide for talent, and on terms that accentuate culture and opportunity, amplifying recruits’ expectations of evidence of real results for diversity efforts.” 

In addition, the report said “Virtual meetings leveled the speaking field for some women and ethnic minorities who had previously gravitated to the perimeters of onsite meetings, and who had refrained from speaking up.”  

For its 2021 report, the  MOVE Project team at Wilson-Taylor Associates surveyed and interviewed 43 accounting and advisory firms representing 27,000 employees from May through August 2021. Just for this year, the project requested that firms submit only demographics about the overall proportion of women and ethnic minorities as all employees and as partners and principals. The project explained, “This temporary ‘light’ count recognized that many firms are still realigning employee headcounts after laying off, furloughing and then reinstating substantial numbers of employees in 2020 and 2021, complicating the very definition of ‘employee.’ In 2022, the Accounting MOVE Project will resume collecting and analyzing the ongoing slate of full demographics that measure and support the advancement of women and ethnic minorities at accounting and advisory firms.” 


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