Women Forward - Progress for Our Profession

Recent news regarding Deloitte’s election of Cathy Engelbert, the first female to take the CEO role at a Big Four firm, has certainly been front and center among media outlets over the past several weeks. This is not only a hot topic in the national dialogue regarding women leaders, but it is also an important topic for DHG - developing and retaining women leaders is a key priority for our Firm. Below is the interview transcript from a recent conversation I had on this topic with Effin Logue, our Chief People Officer. Special thanks to Steve Amigone, DHG Principal, for providing us with the idea to share my thoughts regarding Cathy Engelbert’s new role and DHG’s outlook on women leaders.

Effin: What was your initial reaction when you saw the news that Cathy Engelbert was named the new chief executive for Deloitte? Were you surprised?

Matt: I was pleasantly surprised by this news. I recall Deloitte being one of the first Big Four firms to focus on women’s initiatives back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. While it is monumental to have a woman in the CEO spot, I think it’s equally important to have broad representation of women in all the leadership positions, not just the CEO position. We certainly don’t intend for it to take that long for DHG to have women in our top leadership positions. 

Effin: That’s a great point Matt.

Matt: That’s really where we are as a firm right now. We are trying to make sure that we have women representation throughout all of the leadership positions, not just a single position such as CEO.

Effin: In your opinion, why is this selection of a female important to the industry?

Matt: I think Cathy Engelbert’s election as the CEO of a major Big Four accounting firm is one more step forward for the profession and for the finance industry as a whole. I think it’s also important to note that women have already held the CEO/Managing Partner positions in what I would consider major firms within the industry. There are currently women CEOs on the Top 100 list.  As a matter of fact, Lisa Cines, a DHG partner, was previously the managing partner of a top 100 firm. Also, the current AICPA board is chaired by Tommye Barie, a female, and of the 21 board members currently serving, 11 are women. Each and every woman who has been added to a leadership position in an accounting firm, and especially at the CEO position, help level the playing field in the accounting profession.  It’s vitally important that women’s voices are heard in the same way that men’s voices are heard.

With that said, Cathy Engelbert will help raise the visibility of women in the profession in a way that women leaders before her have not been able to due to the fact that she is with a high publicity Big Four firm. And for this reason, I think Cathy Engelbert’s election truly is a great step forward for the profession.

For DHG, advancing the careers of women is a winning solution for our people and our clients.  Studies have shown that having greater gender diversity, and greater diversity in general, results in more innovative solutions.  This can only make our firm even stronger.

Effin: How do you think formal networking and sponsorship programs can impact a woman’s career progression? 

Matt: Networking and sponsorship programs are important components, among several, in advancing a woman’s career. In addition to these types of programs, women must also have leadership support and what I’ll call firm-wide cultural support. Further, an awareness of the possibility for unintended bias is key to changing perspectives and decision making concerning women in the workplace. It takes all of these pieces working together at the same time – individual support, leadership support from the top and firm-wide cultural support in order to progress and succeed as a woman. This is really how we have defined our strategy for DHG’s Women Forward; DHG provides and supports all of these vital components for success.

Effin: We are really fortunate to have a culture that truly supports and embraces progress for women. What are we doing to cultivate more female leaders among our leadership ranks at the firm level and at the local level?

Matt: We are making progress, but I will be the first to acknowledge that we have a ways to go in order to meet the vision we have set forth in our DHG strategy. There are several ways we are working to help build future leaders:  One significant way we nurture leaders on the firm-wide level, is through our DHG Leadership Academy (DHGLA).  We’re using this program to ensure that we have proper balance from a gender perspective and we’re making sure that leadership opportunities are being opened up to women earlier in their careers. 

In addition to DHGLA we are keenly focused on our succession planning.  We’re making sure that we have adequate representation of women not only in our current leadership roles but that we also have an adequate pipeline for future leadership opportunities in the firm.  Our succession planning is a formal process where we actually identify names, positions and ranges of dates so that we can ensure that we are developing our women and that they are ready when the time comes.

For my final point, I would like to go back to Women Forward.  This program is not only intended to provide development for our women but also it is intended to help our men understand more about what we need to do to prepare our women to become partners and leaders in the firm.   I expect all of our men professionals to participate in Women Forward activities.  The very fact that a male principal suggested this interview is a great example of how our male professionals can play a key role in this strategy.

Effin: One last question for you - What are we doing to retain women at the senior manager and manager level, which is where we tend to see the big drop off.

Matt: We are working to retain our people one step at a time, one person at a time.  This is not as much a gender issue as it is a generational issue as we adapt to a changing workforce.  I think historically, it’s typically been women that we lose at this level, but today, in our industry, it’s about career-life integration - which actually crosses both genders.  Couples are making decisions on what makes most sense regarding who might stay at home or take on a reduced schedule.  So, it then becomes incumbent upon us, DHG, to change our culture-one example at a time. We can offer rewarding careers for our people with adequate career-life integration; a cookie cutter career path for everyone based on the way the profession has run historically is no longer necessary. Instead, we can allow each individual to tailor their own career paths to achieve our client objectives and career objectives for our people at the same time.  The point I am making here is that we must really forge ahead – we are changing the culture of our firm one example at a time.

Changing the culture is much more sustainable than just having a temporary program with policies and procedures. We want to build a culture which enables all of our people to plan their careers in a way that successfully integrates their careers with their lifestyle.