At RSM US LLP (“RSM”), we define stewardship as leaving things better than we found them. Our firm has a long history of such stewardship—both in our firm as well as the communities where our people live and work. The RSM US Foundation, established in 2014, is focused on building tomorrow’s leaders, and our firm is humbled to be able to donate millions of dollars each year to deserving nonprofits aligned with that vision. But it doesn’t stop there. We also have an unrelenting focus on leaving our firm better for those who will come behind us, and that includes building leadership skills among our people.
Building tomorrow’s leaders in today’s increasingly diverse workforce is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach that might have worked decades ago. It requires understanding and appreciating the differences and perspectives that each individual brings, and customizing approaches to help them succeed. This includes a specific focus on women in the workplace.
Study after study shows that companies with gender diversity in their leadership ranks achieve higher revenue as compared to their less diverse peers. So having women in leadership positions is a competitive differentiator. Another advantage women bring to the workplace is that they tend to demonstrate high degrees of social sensitivity. This trait fosters psychological safety among teams, leading to members who are less likely to leave, and more likely to harness the power of diversity in general. Ultimately, this social sensitivity results in higher team success and even community engagement—another differentiator in the marketplace.
From September 2020 through this past February, however, women were leaving the labor force at a faster rate than men, according to RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas in RSM’s The Real Economy blog. While some of this is attributable to the unique circumstances related to the pandemic, it serves as a timely reminder of the importance of gender diversity in the workplace for the long term. How do we get our women to stay in the workplace?
Harvard Business Review views allyship as a strategic mechanism used by individuals to become collaborators and accomplices who promote equity in the workplace through supportive personal relationships and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy. Allies work to drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices and culture. In a society where customers/clients, employees and investors see equity and inclusion as a business imperative, allyship by an organization’s senior leaders is essential, particularly for women and other underrepresented individuals or groups in the workplace.
To build an effective network of allies, an organization must engage individuals who are interested in relearning the way they see the world. Allyship requires viewing situations not from the lens of your own experience or perspective, but based on the realities and experiences of others. And since men hold 62% of manager-level positions, their involvement is critical. It’s a lifelong process of building meaningful relationships based on trust and accountability with underrepresented individuals or groups.
To be an ally means to align yourself with someone else in their struggle. To be an effective ally, best-selling author Peter Bregman (Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work; Wiley, 2018) says you must do four things:
• Be confident in yourself.
• Be connected with others.
• Be committed to a purpose.
• Act with emotional courage.
To be confident in yourself, you need to understand who you are as a leader and then determine who you want to become. Asking for feedback is a powerful way to uncover blind spots, while listening to and accepting that feedback is the key to changing your behavior. Starting with confidence creates the foundation for your leadership style.
To be connected with others you must listen with a willingness to learn something new, which is the basis of connection. Following through on a commitment builds trust for lasting, honest relationships. True success depends on connecting with others.
To be committed to a purpose you have to create a clear, powerful, compelling focus toward a larger purpose in order to channel your energy and the energy of those around you toward a common goal. On a macro level, we are focused on creating an inclusive environment for everyone at RSM, but at the micro level – we are asking ourselves to be focused on a specific person who need us to be their allies.
To act with emotional courage we have to pause and understand when we do not want to feel something. Then, instead of avoiding it, head straight for it. Act boldly. Emotional courage feeds on confidence, connections and commitment.
As we all challenge ourselves to be vulnerable, to build trust and demonstrate courage, we become allies to the women and other underrepresented groups who will make our organizations succeed. As we practice these skills and role model them for others, our organizations will evolve to be more inclusive for women and all colleagues without a conscious effort to do so. This benefits our organizations, our people and our communities.
Kate Seitz is an assurance partner and National Women’s Employee Network group leader for RSM US LLP.