Two CEOs On Gender Equality In The C-Suite And Boardroom: Diversity Done Right


Christopher P. Skroupa, Contributor

December 12, 2015

Jim Powers, chief executive officer of Crowe Horwath LLP since April 2015, has 37 years of experience in providing audit services to publicly and privately owned businesses in a variety of industries. In addition, he has extensive experience in all aspects of corporate finance, including mergers and acquisitions and private and public securities offerings, as well as in the areas of strategic planning and business process re-engineering. Mr. Powers served three separate terms as a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, including serving as its chairman in 2012-2013. Crowe is one of the largest public accounting, consulting and technology firms in the U.S.

Dorri McWhorter became the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago in March 2013. She has embarked upon a journey to transform the 138 year old social service agency to a 21st century social enterprise. Dorri is moving the agency into the digital age by re-launching the TechGYRLS program, which focuses on developing STEM awareness for girls ages 9 through 14 and introducing 3D: Developing Digital Diversity, which provides web and mobile application development training to adult women. Dorri was included in the inaugural list of “The Blue Network”, comprised of the top 100 innovators in Chicago, by Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation.  In Spring of 2015, the YWCA launched its own e-commerce site, called the YShop, which provides carefully curated goods and services from businesses that support the mission of the YWCA.

Christopher Skroupa: Jim, I understand that you have strong feelings on the topic of gender equality in the C-Suite and boardroom. Can you describe your approach to the topic, from the CEO chair?

Jim Powers: Gender equality aligns closely with Crowe’s four core values: We care, share, invest and grow. We know that caring for, sharing with and investing in ALL of our people leads to growth in the firm.

I think back to early in my career when senior leaders took me along on client visits.  That meant so much in my career.  That’s where I learned everything! I don’t know if I had a lot to contribute but I sure learned a lot.  I need to motivate our people to do the same now with people who are different from them.

Commitment and accountability from the top is critical for gender diversity to take hold.  And that’s my job. No one else can do that.  It’s my responsibility.

Dorri McWhorter: The Centennial Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage is rapidly approaching in the Year 2020. This would be a great milestone to ensure that over 100 years women have actually achieved equality. This is the sense of urgency that we see around this issue.

Skroupa: How would you describe steps your firm has taken to create a gender equal environment?

Powers: We first established our women leadership program about 13 years ago to help develop and support high potential and high performing women.  We’ve seen the positive effects of the program in improvements in many areas including opportunities for women, retention, innovation, as well as an improved leadership pipeline.

Programs include development, networking, mentorship, advocacy and sponsorship – all critical elements in helping our women succeed.

We’re embedding diversity and inclusion in all facets of the firm from recruiting and employer policies to learning and talent development activities. We’ve worked to shift diversity and inclusion from mere compliance to actionable behaviors, initiatives, processes and systems.

McWhorter: Women are 50% of the workforce and organizations need to put gender equality at the top of their priorities to remain competitive. If environments are not deemed inclusive, employers won’t be able to attract and retain the talent they need to be competitive.

Skroupa: Have there been challenges that you can share, ones you may have faced along the path, and what types of actions did you take to overcome those challenges?

Powers: I think that most of us have typically recruited and developed people in our own images.  It’s important to recognize this unconscious bias and change our habits to seek out people who look and think differently from us so we can all learn from other perspectives and experiences.

At first, we had mostly women leading the women leadership programs.  However, men have to be partners in this process – they need to serve as supporters and mentors. It won’t work if it’s just women helping each other.  We need cross-gender support for diversity.

McWhorter: Talent development needs to be everyone’s focus, especially in human capital intensive environments. Mid-level Managers need more training and support as they are often in critical interfacing roles that determine career success for many women.

Skroupa: Have you been able to create greater access to executive positions for women?

Powers: We’ve worked to build our C-suite and boardroom (our Executive Committee) into a more gender-balanced leadership team and we’ve made progress. Now, 2 out of 8 (25%) of our board members are women, females hold 3 of 9 (33%) of our C-level positions and a woman is CEO of our healthcare consulting subsidiary, CHAN Healthcare.

While we’ve made progress, we know we have more work to do.

McWhorter: Organizations need to deliberately intend to put women in C-level and board positions. When I have seen success in placement of women in these roles, it was because the Board and CEO deliberately had an intention to fill these roles with women. It won’t happen just as a matter of course, it only happens intentionally.

Skroupa: Have there been any outcomes you didn’t expect?

Powers: A number of initiatives designed for our women leadership program have turned out to benefit not only our women, but all of our colleagues, including flexible working arrangements, mentoring and mobility/alternative office programs.

McWhorter: I often say that diversity done right, benefits everyone. This gets to ultimately that one size does not fit all but the employers willingness to be flexible and create scenarios that support various lifestyles will benefit the organization in the end.

Skroupa: What is the next step in your plan?  How do you see your firm moving forward?

Powers: I’m committed to taking diversity and inclusion to the next level at Crowe.  We’ve assigned a partner to lead the overall diversity strategy and vision for the firm and we also recently created a full-time role to manage diversity and inclusion.

This summer, I visited most of our offices to talk with our people.  I gave them a list of the Top 5 things a Crowe person can do to make the most of opportunities at the firm.  Focusing on diversity was one of those five things.  I gave them a call to action, asking them to think about who could accompany them to their next client meeting or their next proposal.  I asked them to take someone who is different from them to help bring diversity of thought.

We’ve made good progress over the last decade or so but we need to do more –We need to move past intentions into solid engagement to reach the point where women are equally empowered at the highest decision-making levels.

McWhorter: Organizations need to continue to evaluate the workforce landscape recognizing that the by 2020, 40% of the workforce will be non-W2/contract labor/etc. This means that the opportunity to retain the best talent will continue to be very competitive. Having inclusive environments will become the minimum requirements to engage employees as employees continue to evaluate what works for them and what choices they will make about their employers.

Also on Forbes:

Female CEOS From Around The Globe

This article was written by Christopher P. Skroupa from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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