A formal firm wide women’s initiative was an important building block in bringing awareness to and changing the disparity of men and women in leadership positions at Citrin Cooperman. However, we have seen from our internal statistics that we have not moved the needle enough. Several factors help to explain why a formal women’s initiative might not have been effective enough in dealing with the leadership gender gap.
An “initiative” is generally a short-term, goal-specific, strategy. One definition of an initiative is that it is “an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something.” While an initiative can work to create a small change or make a simple improvement – an example would be to create a flexible work policy – an initiative fails to create sustained, long-term change. To be effective, a gender equality program must focus on engendering and empowering a culture change that addresses the gender-specific struggles and successes of each individual, through training, open communication, and awareness of the hidden biases that we all have – one that may be contributing to the leadership gender gap.
A common perception is that ‘women’s initiatives’ focus on working moms or are a platform to criticize men. While the purpose of a women’s initiative is generally to help women move in to leadership roles within their firms, the fact is that perception is reality and unless there is a shared vision and mission, it will not succeed. If members of the organization are not active participants in the initiative – most often men – and if they have a negative perception of the initiative, they would not support it and the initiative would not succeed in its mission. Conversely, a gender equality program is by its very design a plan for inclusion. It recognizes that men, as well as women, have gender-specific needs that are not currently being addressed within the culture.
By focusing on improving women’s skills in areas like communication, leadership, and negotiation, to name a few, a women’s initiative starts with the premise that women need to fundamentally change in order to be successful in their careers. A gender equality program, on the other hand, recognizes that all of us, male and female alike, have areas of strength and weakness and need coaching and training that focuses on what matters to each of us. The fact is, women have many great qualities and skills that differ from those of men, and there is a need for both in a successful company.
As new generations enter the workplace, their ideas of what success looks like have changed the landscape of work. Today, more and more men are mindful of the fact that they do not want to spend the majority of their time at their job. Like the women before them, they have recognized that there is a lot of life outside of work. They want to take advantage of flextime, reduced work schedules, and work from home policies, but often feel that their managers do not respect their boundaries. Women, on the other hand, are often seen as less dedicated to their careers because they have families. A culture of gender equality seeks to dispel assumptions about people’s career aspirations and needs based on gender norms, and instead recognize that all of us have our own priorities.
Formalizing a women’s initiative at Citrin Cooperman was certainly a step in the right direction, but now we are committed to making a transformative change – one that includes all members of the firm. Citrin Cooperman is turning to a new direction to create a fair and equal workplace for everyone. By launching our EDGE (Empowering Diversity and Gender Equality) program, we seek a change in our very culture – one that will enable us to create an environment of equality for everyone. EDGE is a strategic program that aims to transform by identifying specific focus areas and engaging employees at all levels to participate in the implementation. The objective is to create an institutional company culture that strives to meet the needs of each of its current and future employees for the betterment of the firm, the public accounting industry, and the communities where we live and work.