Advancing Women in Business

Global audit, tax and consulting firm RSM has a singular brand promise: to deliver the power of being understood. More than a tagline, the firm infuses this promise into the experiences of its customers and colleagues by encouraging an atmosphere of trust, respect and acceptance. For Kathy Thomas-Beck, managing partner for Florida, it’s about placing value on cultural dexterity and diversity. “It’s an integral part of creating a dynamic workforce that drives superior business results,” she said.

In response to the firm’s inclusive culture, unique grassroots initiatives often grow in local offices, providing volunteer, professional development, mentorship and networking opportunities that incorporate all walks of life, genders, interests and backgrounds. “Increasingly, we understand how connectivity and engagement among peers are vital to their work experience and performance,” Thomas-Beck said.

Taking Action

Last fall, a motivated group of female professionals in RSM’s Orlando office decided to organize around a mission of advancing women in business. Their two-pronged strategy was unique in that it encompassed initiatives for RSM colleagues, as well as the greater community.

In November 2017, RSM hosted the inaugural “Influential Women’s Forum” in Orlando. The steering committee – comprised of Kathy Thomas-Beck, Lynn Sedwick, Mari Chumley, Stephanie Gardner, Hilary Marx, and Katrina Rote – brought professional women in the community together for a meaningful exchange of ideas. With topics ranging from innovation to mapping success, the group discussion allowed attendees from various professional backgrounds, to gain perspective from their peers. “RSM values the advancement of female leaders,” said Sedwick, partner. “That message comes to life when we connect with women in the community and take action to help them thrive both at work and at home.” Additional activities are planned for the Influential Women’s Forum in 2018.

In December 2017, RSM colleagues in Central Florida were invited to take part in a special event focused on women’s professional development. The event was an opportunity to hear from a panel of RSM’s female partners and principals – Dara Castle, Kathy Thomas-Beck, Kerensa Butler, Terri Burdine, Tansy Jefferies and Jamie Burgess – about their successes, challenges and experiences as change agents. Afterward, guests were invited to participate in speed mentoring sessions. This allowed colleagues of all levels to personally interact with firm leaders. The event also successfully connected women from various lines of business and industries.   

“Everybody has a different story, but each is inspiring. What we learned from them is that we own our future. We can make it what we want, and success isn’t just your career, there’s more to it. I found that really inspiring.”

– Stephanie Gardner

What Does Success Mean to You?

For Stephanie Gardner, senior tax manager, assisting in the production of the women’s events was a large, but satisfying undertaking. The stories shared by speakers resonated with Gardner and all the attendees.

“Everybody has a different story, but each is inspiring,” she said. “We had six different panelists and a partner moderator, and none of their stories were the same. What we learned from this is that we own our future. We can make it what we want, and success isn’t just your career. There’s more to it. I found that really inspiring.”

For Paulette Mellor, project manager, the non-conventional ideas of success resonated with her as well. For one partner, a fruitful career meant being able to work and make it to each of her kids’ sporting events. Another one found balance in her life by having success in her career and fitting in four to six weeks of travel to foreign countries. During the one-on-one mentoring session, Mellor learned even more about the leaders.

“What stood out to me most from the discussions was that you don’t have to have it all figured out now,” Mellor said. “You can have goals for your future, and as long as you continue to strive for those goals, you’ll find success. You may not end up exactly where you planned, but you’ll feel like you accomplished what you set out to achieve.”

Evolving Initiatives

“As we hit the landmark number of 500 employees among RSM offices in Florida, we are proud that approximately 50 percent are women,” said Thomas-Beck. While the firm-wide initiatives RSM has put in place encourage female career advancement, it’s the actions of individuals at local offices who create the supportive environment where women truly succeed.

In today’s global business environment, diversity and inclusion are essential to a companies’ productivity, creativity and competitive advantage. At RSM, retaining female talent and developing female leaders are important components. “One piece of advice I like to give young women is to be inquisitive,” said Thomas-Beck. “Showing an interest in the point of view of others enables you to deliver the power of being understood. That’s what we want for our clients and for our people.”

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About the author

Ryan Randall

As an assistant editor at SCB Marketing, Randall works on enhancing editorial quality for SpaceCoast Business, i4 Business, SpaceCoast Living and Florida TREP magazines. Whether he is writing, editing, corresponding with clients or helping with copy layout, he is a valuable member of the production staff and assists in providing premier editorial content that reaches many Central Floridians on a monthly basis.

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