Is Your Company This Honest About Its Women?

Last Updated Oct 8, 2010 12:08 PM EDT

There's truth in numbers -- if you can find them.

We've got lots of statistics about women in management overall. But as much as individual employers love to collect awards for being wonderful to work for, not very many have the courage to publicly report how many women they have at each level of management and how much headway those women are making.

That's because saying it out loud sets up expectations -- expectations that if the numbers are lousy, the company is doing something about it, and if those numbers don't improve, somebody's going to pay. Better to clam up and drop the occasional statistical crumb to support your claim that you're working womens' nirvana and have those painful discussions behind closed doors.

Moss Adams is a Seattle-based public accounting firm that does not subscribe to that Hansel & Gretel philosophy. For the second year, MA has just published, on its web site, the annual report of its Forum_W women's initiative. (This kind of disclosure is one reason why Moss Adams supports the Accounting MOVE Project, in partnership with my firm and the American Woman's Society of CPAs and the American Society of Women Accountants.)

Wouldn't you think that public accounting firms would be all over putting their numbers out there? I scratched around the websites of the award-collecting Big Four and came up with only one report that even comes close to what Moss Adams is doing....but still manages to obfuscate any sense of actual progress.

Moss Adams spells it out, right there on page 13 and in a no-nonsense bar chart, thank you, not fuzzed up by fancy graphics. Women at the firm account for:

  • 21% of partners, up one point from the 20% where they'd been stuck for years
  • 45% of senior managers, a two-point drop from last year
  • 58% of managers, up three points
  • 52% of senior associates, down three points
  • 42% of staff, down six points
Moss Adams has put in place a spectrum of development programs for women at all levels. It's ramping up individual career guidance for everyone. It's coaching younger women in the nuances of strategic volunteering so they become fluent in business development skills. Will all this work? I think it will, but the point is: we'll know. At most workplaces, your only inkling about how women are progressing is the earnest announcement, slow fade, and enthusiastic re-launch of the same old women's programs in a perpetual cycle of ambition and disappointment.