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Women in Leadership: Creating a Culture of Growth


Earlier this year, Brown Smith Wallace was honored by the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis as a top “Women in the Workplace” employer. Attracting, retaining and advancing women leaders of today and tomorrow is a core aspect of our firm’s strategic vision to be The Firm for Growth. In the accounting industry, women comprise the majority of professionals. That rings true at Brown Smith Wallace, where women make up 57% of our staff, including 47% of our leadership (managers and above).

As part of our firm’s overall vision of growth, we passionately support the growth and successes of our colleagues. Companies with the highest level of gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform those with the lowest. For many industries and companies, gender inclusivity doesn’t happen overnight. It requires reflecting on your company culture, your leadership examples and your talent management. 

As the third managing partner of our 46-year-old firm, these are some of the behaviors and expectations the firm partners and I have set for our leadership team to create a culture of growth for all:

  • Challenge the status quo. Our firm’s founders, Jeff Smith and Harvey Wallace, were pioneers in creating flexible work arrangements in public accounting when no one else was doing it. This shift in thinking has directly impacted the ability for some of our female leaders to achieve top accolades within their career, despite making the decision along the way to cut back their work schedules based on family decisions. Our firm’s pay policy corresponds to the level and percentage of time that the professional is working. We don’t let what are often short-term family decisions impact that individual’s leadership potential.
  • Change the vocabulary. Leaders must hold each other accountable to think about women in positions of power and speak about them in that way in everyday business conversations. Something as seemingly small as not automatically using the “he” pronoun in business situations helps change the mentality, behavior and culture.
  • Understand the differences. There is an often-cited finding from a Hewlett Packard internal report that states men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The report does not clarify whether this disparity comes from a lack of confidence in women or a misconception of the hiring process (i.e., not seeing the hiring process as “one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications,” as a Harvard Business Review article states). Regardless, it should be eye-opening to the potential differences in how men and women approach challenges and new opportunities in the workplace, and how understanding these differences can create an environment for all to equally thrive.

One of our firm’s core values is improvement – we don’t rest on our past achievements. So, while being recognized as a top “Women in the Workplace” employer is encouraging, it only motivates us to keep the momentum going.


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