Jamie Smith is an incredible advocate for women at DHG and beyond. He serves on our Women Forward board and is a tax partner in our Jacksonville, Florida office. In this podcast he shares why men matter in our pursuit of forward progress for women.
Episode 33 Transcript
AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series and our final installment for Women’s History Month. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear from our team members about the things that matter the most to them: flexibility, careers, and people. Today I have with me Jamie Smith, a partner in our Jacksonville, Florida office. Jamie’s been a great advocate, sponsor, and mentor for women at DHG and in our profession. He serves on our Women Forward Board. Welcome Jamie.
JS: Thank you, glad to be here.
AGH: During the final week of Women’s History Month, we are turning our focus to men and you might be asking, “Why in the world would you do that? It’s Women’s History Month.” The answer is quite simple: The advancement of women involves everyone - men and women. We must have two-way dialogue, transparency, and an understanding of unconscious bias to shift corporate culture and shift our understanding of the world around us. Many of our social networks are talking about this with the hashtag, #menmatter. You might want to check that out to learn more. Jamie really is one of our great champions for women and that’s one reason why we wanted to bring him in today. Let’s get started. Jamie, how did you become involved in our Women Forward Program?
JS: Well, good question. I got a call one day from Nikki Swaney who has been instrumental in leading our Women Forward initiative and she had mentioned that they were looking to add another male to the board and that my name kept coming up as someone who would be a good advocate and would be able to articulate and educate others in our firm and our peer group with regards to the needs that Women Forward are bringing up.
AGH: Great, you say this, why is diversity important to you?
JS: Well I think, you know, as we continue to grow in our market place and continue to experience new and diverse cultures within our businesses and also within our work force, I think it’s extremely important that we certainly embrace it and if you look at the data, and this is something that I’ve been privy to with regards to being on the Women Forward Board, but if you look at the data there are many studies about organizations that seem to do very well in terms of performance when they have a diverse workforce. Really, from an economic standpoint and from a growth standpoint and in terms of being relevant in the marketplace, not only from recruiting but also in growing our business, I think that this is an important issue that we should embrace; that we should really identify blind spots that we have in our own organization so that we can be a higher performing firm and a firm that is relevant in today’s marketplace.
AGH: Right. It really does speak to not only our talent strategy but also our performance strategy. I would assume that as a father, having opportunity for women is important to you as well.
JS: Definitely. I have a young daughter who is my youngest and she’s a high performer in school and I want her to have the best opportunities that my boys have and so I think as I am able to see some of the challenges that we have in our organization and also in our client’s organizations, it definitely helps me to widen my gaze, if you will, in terms of knowing the challenges and helping my daughter along and also helping our staff along as well. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.
AGH: Yeah. So my next question, last year, I had the privilege and honor of attending NABA’s national conference and I looked around and for the first time in my life, I was the only white person in the room, which was kind of weird. I’ve never experienced that before and I understand that you had a similar experience when you attended a women’s leadership summit - you were the only male in the room. Can you tell us about that experience?
JS: Yeah, it was a great experience. It was very awkward and intimidating but, you know, I really enjoyed it. I, of course, had Liz Murphy with me. She was my buddy throughout the whole time and my support, if you will. But it was great. I really enjoyed experiencing that because I’ve had this conversation with several women since then and universally the response that I get is, “Well now you know how it feels.” Because this is the real issue where women are often placed in a male dominated surroundings and it’s intimidating. It was very good for me to experience that and also it was very encouraging because when you have an event that is obviously female dominated, the women, the participants, were very confident and you could tell they were ambitious in growing their careers. I think that’s something that women struggle with. If you read all the studies and you go to conferences like this, you hear that often women typically struggle with tooting their horn or being aggressive in the workforce or being ambitious because of social norms that we’ve created over time where maybe an aggressive woman or an ambitious woman is not positively received. That’s the type of thing that I enjoy getting out of this, which is to really understand the blind spots that we have and what we call “automatic thinking.” When you have a male dominated industry like we have, there’s just going to be some of that. If we can identify those items and understand and have empathy where a lot of our women are experiencing that sort of intimidation or awkwardness in those settings then I think we can move the needle on finding ways to break those down barriers making our work force a much more conducive workplace to help our folks grow.
AGH: Yeah, totally. I think if everyone could experience that feeling, I think it would make us all be a little more empathetic, I think, and a little more understanding of diversity. Of course having diverse teams is the right thing to do and you spoke a little bit earlier about it helping us with our performance. Can you talk a little bit more about how diversity is a business imperative in today’s world?
JS: You can point back to studies that have been coming out more and more the last couple of years where a diverse work force is more creative, it’s more efficient, it’s more effective. I think what it boils down to is, if you have an environment where you can sort of bust down the walls where people are hesitant or intimidated or whether they’re just not released to really be who they are and be creative and just aggressive or whatever. I think what you’ll get is really a safe environment where people flourish and I think that’s born out in terms of the studies with regards to diverse organizations and I go back to the — I know many of us have done the Crucial Conversations study and one thing that they talk about in terms of bringing or at least allowing an environment for great dialogue is making it safe. So when you make conversations and take the emotions out of it and the intimidation out of it, I think that real dialogue can flourish and where we can break down those walls where we’re having issues in our diversity, I think that that’s going to be the natural result of that.
AGH: Absolutely. What advice would you give a peer who wants to take a more active role in women’s advocacy?
JS: Well I would say, “Go for it!” I talk it up quite a bit with a number of our male partners. We had good participation around firm from our female partners and also our female senior managers and managers, but I think it really, for us to really make a move in terms of creating real advocacy and real change in this area, I think we’ve got to get the majority of our male partners on board and involved somehow. So I would say to my peers out there who want to get involved, there are so many things that you can do on the office level and in the regional level with regards to supporting the Women Forward events that we have and then really just being an advocate and, you know, if you have questions, certainly l would love to have a conversation one on one as well. I am available and will continue to advocate for Women Forward and also our overall diversity initiative.
AGH: That’s terrific and as a woman here at DHG, I’m grateful for the work that you’re doing to help make us be a better firm and progress forward.
JS: Thanks, I appreciate that.
AGH: Absolutely. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to be with us today.
AGH: Thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out the DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.