Moss Adams LLP, the Seattle-based accounting and consulting firm, says it has launched a campaign to develop and retain women leaders at the firm.
Large accounting firms throughout the country have disproportionately low numbers of women partners, says Cheri Burnham, a partner at Moss Adams' Spokane office and a member of the board overseeing the firm's campaign, dubbed Forum_W.
The firm hires about as many women as men, but the attrition rate at the senior-management level is much higher for women, says Burnham, who has worked for Moss Adams for 15 years and has been a partner for nearly four years.
That's believed to be due to a corporate culture that historically hasn't focused on attracting, developing, retaining, and advancing its women leaders, says Tammy Young, Moss Adams' Seattle-based director of Human Resources.
A senior-manager position is the last step in promotion before admittance to partnership and becoming part owner of the firmor the firm's ownership group, Young says. "Senior managers usually handle multiple client groups, and they assume some responsibilities for developing business for the firm," she says.
About 21 percent of Moss Adams' partners are women. While that's higher than the industry average for large firms, the firm's goal is to improve the percentage measurably by 2014, Young says.
Moss Adams has 21 offices in Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Arizona that employ a total of 1,740 people, including about 240 partners.
The Spokane office, located on the 17th and 18th floors of the Bank of America Financial Center, at 601 W. Riverside, employs 102 people, including 14 partners. Four partners here are women.
Moss Adams, seeking to recruit women and to keep top women managers on the partnership track, introduced Forum_W in three offices in late 2008 and rolled out the campaign firmwide last year.
Kelli Franco, a partner in the Spokane office, who heads the Forum_W steering committee here, says the initiative is tailored to suit the needs of each office.
Franco says some Forum_W events are for women only, including informal quarterly lunch meetings that feature presentations or discussions led by women partners.
Franco was one of the presenters at the last quarterly meeting, for which the topic was dealing with guilt as a working mother. Although it's difficult juggling a family and a career, the rewards outweigh the challenges, she says.
"It's worth it," Franco says. "I love my job, I love my clients, and I love helping people."
Young says it makes good business sense to retain top women managers, both from the clients' and the firm's perspective.
"We can't afford a high turnover," she says. "To be able to nurture and protect intellectual capital, we need to minimize turnover, obviously starting at the point where it's the highest."
Also, as the client base becomes more diverse, it's important for the firm to display diversity and values similar to the clients', Young says.
Many Forum_W workshops and events are open to men as well as women, Burnham says. For example, a forum on leading and developing women in the firm might draw as many or more men than women.
"More men might want to attend to understand what motivates women so they can be better leaders of women," she says.
Burnham says men and women, through person-to-person networking, tend to develop business connections differently. Women tend to have deeper relationships, but fewer of them, while men are more likely to build a broad network, she says.
A networking workshop that Forum_W holds helps women become more aware of that difference and helps them improve their abilities to create broader networks, Burnham says.
Young says that networking is important for generating business and selling work. When people maintain smaller networks, that could limit their ability to generate business, she says.
The Forum-W initiative here also includes assertiveness training, which, like the networking workshop, is open to men and women. Women generally aren't as effective as men at promoting themselves and asking for accolades, Young says.
"Men also have an easier time closing the deal or asking for the sale," she says. "The assertiveness training helps women get more comfortable with the 'asks.'"
Forum_W coaches that it's important to seek out and offer mentoring. The firm's mentoring program connects those who still are developing their professional skills with those who already have honed them, Burnham says.
In the Spokane office, some mentoring occurs naturally, with either the mentor or the protg seeking out the other. Someone who has been with the firm four or five years is encouraged to become a mentor to others.
Mentoring doesn't always occur naturally, though, and in such cases the mentoring program encourages someone to request a match to provide or receive mentoring services.
Forum_W also attempts to raise awareness of diverse leadership styles.
"When you think about the traits of a leader, you think about men's command-and-control style," Young says. "Often women use a more collaborative style. We're trying to influence the conversation about leadership style on both organizational and individual levels."
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