Our firm’s women’s initiative program emphasizes inclusion, but also focuses on expanding the firm’s business opportunities. It’s because of the unique way we’ve developed the initiative that we see a tangible impact on our business. For instance, when our women professionals bring in new business, it affects our top line. Conversely, when they are motivated and confident to drive the firm forward, it affects the bottom line.
But our initiative hasn’t only helped us meet our business goals – it’s been instrumental in developing our culture. In fact, our initiative is a key reason why we have been repeatedly recognized as a top place to work. In the past two years alone, we’ve been honored by Fortune, which named us one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2013, and Working Mother, which has included us in their 100 Best Companies. And on top of it all, our LIFE program (Leadership, Inspiration, Family, Empowerment), which encompasses our women’s initiatives, helps us further one of our core strategic objectives: To attract, motivate and retain talented employees through innovative programs and a supportive workplace.
A Link to Strategy
To forge a successful women’s initiative program, making the business case is critical, as is linking your women’s initiative with the firm’s strategy. To this end, our managing principal sits on our steering committee and provides us with critical top leadership buy-in and support.
We believe that gender diversity is imperative for many reasons, including:
- The importance of sustaining firm growth by making the best use of available talent
- Succession planning concerns
- Maintaining high quality in a competitive marketplace
- Positioning the firm to recruit and retain the best talent
- Ensuring the firm reflects the market’s changing demographics
In designing women’s initiatives, it’s important to put a structure in place to ensure two things: initiative effectiveness and longevity. Our women’s initiatives steering committee meets every two months to review progress, set policies and develop procedures. We also have regional committees in all but one of our nine offices (we’re currently developing a committee for our newest office). The regional committee members play a vital role. They serve as our ambassadors, spreading the word about our efforts, creating programs and keeping the excitement and involvement up. The regional committees, which we put in place to maintain the initiatives’ grassroots feel, also help to develop targeted program components for each individual office. This is important because different offices have different demographics and different needs. We’ve learned that the best approach in, for instance, California, may not be right on the East Coast.
Putting the Program to Work
There are three platforms under our initiatives:
Leadership. Our internal program, Rothstein Kass University, offers a variety of courses, seminars and networking events for all firm members at every level of experience. It includes a Leadership Circle that brings together women from different offices to focus on professional and personal development.
Mentoring. Our LIFE mentoring program matches high-potential women in managerial and senior managerial roles with principals on an annual basis. The mentors’ most important job is to ask pointed and inspiring questions that inspire mentees to develop their own innovative solutions and identify and develop their individual talents. The mentors act as role models and demonstrate the many ways to succeed in our organization. At the end of each year, we review each mentees’ progress, looking specifically at how many individuals have been promoted and tracking how many stay with the firm. This is one of the tools we use to measure the return on our investment.
Business development. In the fall and spring of each year, we offer workshops that introduce participants to networking. People sometimes fear networking because they don’t fully understand what it is or how to do it. At the end of the program, the participants plan and hold an event which showcases the skills they’ve learned.
In addition, our Rainmaker Workshops are aimed at women who hold managerial positions. They volunteer to participate and attend bimonthly meetings where presenters of the workshop may include practice leaders from different divisions who explain what they do and how participants might cross sell those services. They also learn how to create bios, prepare for an evaluation and enhance their internal visibility. The workshop also features an “Allies Series,” in which we coordinate events with women at preferred service providers (law firms, financial services firms, etc.) so that our women can develop relationships with them. We know women often want to work with other women, and we consider development of this pipeline another part of our firm strategy. We’ve also recently introduced Rainmaking Workgroups, the next step after our Rainmaker Workshops, which women must apply to join. Participants of these workshops develop a personal business development plan and defend it on a quarterly basis.
Our cultivation events, where we bring together women who are leaders in their fields to share ideas, are another growth opportunity. A female principal will typically mentor senior managers on how to organize an event. A core strength of our firm is our expertise in alternative investments. So at a recent event, a woman principal and two managers organized and moderated a roundtable discussion on the topic of mandates related to pension funds requiring allocations be made to women-managed hedge funds. We invited female hedge fund managers, as well as the individuals who allocate pension fund investments. It was purely an educational event, but we still gained business because participants were so impressed with the event, our staff and our firm. To promote our thought leadership, we also publish white papers after each such event.
Women’s initiatives and programs change over time. When we began, our first year was mainly focused on raising awareness of women in business and leadership positions, and we built it from there. Once women realized the firm was committed to helping them further and enhance their careers, they were more interested in participating, more engaged in their careers and more inspired to go the extra mile because they know the firm recognizes their value.
We measure ROI in a number of ways, not only by watching trends in gender demographics by level, but by measuring business impact, business opportunities and how often our programs are recognized by leading organizations. In addition to the Fortune magazine recognition and Working Mother honors, we were also named to the Accounting MOVE Project List of Best Public Accounting Firms for Women for the last three years. We were also named the “Coolest Accounting Firm” for three years in a row by Going Concern. Aside from figures and outside recognition, one of the most important metrics is anecdotal testimonials from our star performers. Ask any woman at our firm and she’ll tell you that our program has made a difference. She’ll tell you that she can see where her career is going. And she’ll tell you it’s a great place to work. That’s the best return in my book.
Rosalie A. Mandel, CPA, is the principal-in-charge of LIFE, the women’s initiatives program at large firm Rothstein Kass.