Jeff’s Banana Peel

The Amazon portrayed in the New York Times’ powerful and brave expose of workforce dysfunction surprised CEO Jeff Bezos.

“I don’t recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don’t either,” the perpetually smiling company founder wrote to employees, and essentially to the world.

Gee, big surprise. Jeff Bezos, insulated by layers of managers and isolated from weeping employees terrified of meetings and ruthless rankings, thinks the company culture is just great.

Of course he does. Because he’s looking in the mirror.

How could Jeff be so disconnected from the workplace realities?

It’s more than his misplaced faith in data over emotional intelligence.

He appears to buy in to a common fallacy: that creating a policy and announcing a program or procedure means that the workplace reality will magically align.

In other words, I say it and it happens.

That’s magical thinking.

From pay equity to work-life programs, what Jeff doesn’t get is what most CEO’s don’t get: if they don’t align managers’ incentives to the policy, it will won’t get done. ‘’

Here’s the dirty secret that undermines all those big plans issuing from the top: they all come with a tiny asterisk: “At the discretion of the employees’ supervisor.”

Big announcements of grand plans come to naught due to that asterisk. With fanfare and cake, corporate chieftains announce their pay equity programs, their new women’s initiatives, generous paid leave for new parents and other programs designed to win and keep more women.

When the cake is eaten and the confetti is swept up, those programs must be put into practice. Bosses throughout the company sit down to read the details and a good number of them realize that the new program directly contradicts their goals for productivity, profits or both. Then that manager pulls out her personal performance incentive contract and gives it a good read. She confirms what she suspected – that she’ll get a bonus for hitting that profit or productivity goal, but nothing if she gets with the shiny new program.

So you tell me: what’s going to win?

Right. She’ll call on that asterisk to inform her staff that the new program doesn’t align with their team’s goals (and her bonus).

That’s the banana peel. That is why big plans fail to become everyday reality.

And when those big plans dissipate in the face of contradictory incentives, employees become cynical, bitter, and distrustful. That’s why Jeff Bezos didn’t recognize the Amazon he thought he built as it was reflected in the New York Times’ powerful expose of the retailer’s culture. He thought that if he told everybody to have fun at work, they would. But if a line manager’s choice is your fun vs. their bonus, you’ll be working late so your boss can reap her quarterly incentive.

Equity Analysts Are Looking for Diverse Pipelines

At June’s Morningstar Investment Conference, financial advisors learned that the latest research proves that when women are part or all of a management team, a company’s returns are just a bit better. Now, money managers are looking at companies’ talent pipelines through a pink lens. It’s not enough any more to have lots of smart people coming up. A decent proportion of those people need to be women, and ethnic minorities, too, to ensure that the company has managers who reflect emerging markets.

Something has shifted. Last year, you could say that your company was all for women employees, women in leadership, women customers, women investors.

Now, those women want you to prove it. Men want you to prove it, too, because the evidence that women reap better results just keeps piling up and up. More women means more money, because women tend to buy and hold, not buy and then sell for a quick win.

Panelists at the Morningstar conference reported that they look at companies’ presence (or absence) on ‘Best Place to Work’ lists as at least a rough validation of their workplace culture. Increasingly, analysts are analyzing company results from a gender and diversity perspective. Managers, it seems, must be prepared to explain not why they do have a diverse pipeline, but why they don’t.

Why news stories might present a false image of how well a company treats women

You’d never go into a job interview without reading up on recent news about the company. As you scan the news, your antenna are up for the presence and prominence of women at that company: how do women represent the company’s operations? Do they seem to be in positions of power? Would you like to work with the women quoted in stories about the company?

In fact, you might even get the impression from the women quoted in the company’s news stories that it’s a terrific place for women. They’re happy, aren’t they?

Here’s why that impression might be misleading. Women are chronically under-represented in news stories about business and technology. Even when women are quoted as expert sources in a story, it’s usually in the company of men.

News decisionmakers (editor, producers, reporters and so on) are keenly aware of the fact that women are scarce in business and tech coverage, even though women are half the American workforce and nearly half of all management and professional workers. And news decisionmakers want to have stories that engage women readers, women representing a rather significant demographic.

Thus, women have an edge in getting picked to be quoted in news stories. Faced with equally qualified experts – one man and one woman – a smart news decisionmaker will think, ‘I’ll quote the woman because our coverage needs to better reflect reality – and women need to see themselves in our coverage.’ “

Smart companies know this. They prepare key women executives and experts through media training and introduce them to news decisionmakers. When these women are quoted, it not only speaks to the topic of the story itself, but also helps create the impression that the company is hospitable to talented women – after all, here’s one woman who did well enough to get quoted…right?

Don’t make assumptions about a company’s culture regarding women based on what one or a few women say in news stories. Look at the company’s overall statistics as well.

Facebook is a great example on both points. Who hasn’t heard of chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her terrific book Lean In, which has become a movement?   Facebook has been great for Sandberg and vice versa.

But what are your chances of doing well at Facebook? How do women fare overall at Facebook?

Fortunately, Facebook has set a strong example by disclosing key diversity numbers. (Many companies don’t.) At Facebook, women comprise: 31% of all employees; 15% of tech employees; 47% of non-tech employees; and 23% of senior executives.

What that means to you depends on the kind of job you want, your skills and your goals. As you size up your opportunities at a potential employer, look beyond the women that the company wants you to see and look for the numbers that provide context for your potential future there.


How Does MOVE Know What’s ‘Best’?

‘The best:’ not just good, not just better, but actually The. Best.

If you say it, you’d better mean it. So how does the MOVE Project methodology define ‘best’ when compiling its 2015 Best CPA Firms for Women list, which is the industry standard for public accounting? (Track the CPA Move Project @MOVEProjectCPA)

It’s a blend of demographics and qualitative data. First, firms need to be at least even with the MOVE average (over 47 participating firms, for 2015) of 22% women partners and principals. (Overall, women comprise 19% of CPA firm partners, according to the AICPA, the profession’s biggest association, and that proportion is eroding.)

MOVE also looks at excellence in the four categories of workplace practice and culture that are essential for advancing women: M (money, or pay equity); O (opportunities, or leadership & professional development); V (vital supports for work-life) and E (entrepreneurship & supplier diversity). It’s not enough to have loads of policies filling up manuals. MOVE looks for evidence that the policies turn into strong practices, and that accountability translates those practices into actual cultures that pave the way for women to move up.

If those practices and cultures really work, then more women stay at those firms, and more women should be promoted…right? That’s exactly what we see at firms where the MOVE factors are hitting on all cylinders: more women stay. That bumps up the number of women partners and principals at those firms. More women in leadership means that there are more women positioned to advocate for rising women. As women gain power and influence, workplace policies, practices and culture evolve.

That’s the cycle that MOVE accelerates. Most firms start out with something good happening. Joining the MOVE Project helps them get better. And as they reap the rewards of gaining more women at all levels, their numbers and cultures achieve the best.

Could this work for your industry? Let us know!  @MOVEProjectCPA

3 Ways to Craft Your Career Story to Inspire & Lead

Every senior woman in accounting has been asked how she did it. How did she manage work and family? How did she crack the code of business development? How did she speak up when she felt she was being overlooked?

move smallWith women comprising only 20% of partners at public accounting firms, according to the 2014 Accounting MOVE Project report, the personal history of each senior woman resonates more powerfully than the individual stories of male leaders.  Men’s experience is helpful, but only to the degree that women can translate the context of male success to their own situations.  Women crave insight and empathy from other women.

Your personal career history – your story – becomes part of the history of your firm and of the women you mentor, sponsor, guide and inspire.

Your history is more than your resume with some verbs thrown in. Here are three ways to build a lasting impression with a few short, energetic stories about career pivot points.

Give them what they want, not what they ask for. Listening between the lines is essential for good client service. Do the same when choosing a couple of stories that address often-asked questions.

At nearly every women’s conference (across all kinds of industries) that I’ve attended, a young woman from the audience has asked a high-powered woman presenter not about career strategy, but a nuts-and-bolts question about how she managed family and work.  Until a couple of conferences ago, this annoyed me. Why ask an industry leader about how she handled carpool, diapers and tax season? Then I realized: these young women are not after parenting advice. They crave reassurance from someone who’s now past the parenting-young-children-stage: are you at peace with your decisions? Did it turn out ok, now that you are looking at those years in your rear-view mirror?  When you craft a story that addresses deeper issues, you build rapport.

Throw open closed doors.  When you become a partner, you suddenly join the club. Until then, you have wondered how decisions are made behind closed doors. To the extent that you can, tell rising women how things work in the meetings they can’t yet attend.  Men often get glimpses in casual settings that don’t include women.  So call out the impenetrable to those on their way. Explain how decisions are made, what kind of give-and-take happens among partners – and help them envision themselves as part of the story.

Be the heroine. One woman partner recently told me how she braved a skeptical panel of male colleagues when she advocated for her firm’s first-ever women’s initiative. “I told them, what if all the women leave? Who’s left? People who aren’t as bright, and it will take us longer to get the work done and we’ll make less money,” she said.

You can picture the surprise on their faces when she showed up wearing her Superwoman cape.  And you won’t be surprised to hear that she walked out with six-figure funding for the initiative.

Take center stage in a few key stories that illustrate pivotal moments in your career. Show yourself in action. Sketch the reaction. And tell what you did to convert that moment to real change. That’s how you convert career history to career legend.

This post was also published on March 12, 2015, by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance. 

Please, Don’t Take The Plunge

American metaphors about entrepreneurship are pretty scary.

Take the plunge.

Go out on my own.

Freelance — that one’s actually medieval.

And, these metaphors mislead would-be entrepreneurs all the time. That’s because no one actually works for him or herself. If you have clients, you are running a business. You are not on your own. You work with and for them.

Entrepreneurship is not a one-way leap into the unknown — at least, not for successful entrepreneurs. One of the key indicators of success, according to the Kaufmann Foundation, which researches entrepreneurship, is carving out a niche in an industry that you already know — and that already knows you.

Soft-focus self-employment of the sort described in Photoshopped terms in glossy magazines is just as real as the models in the accompanying stock photos of business women (all in their suits, still, I see).  The real key to success is building on the insight, contacts, and experience you have in the industry where you are currently employed as a staffer.

But…how to lay out the stepping stones to transition from staff to entrepreneur? You can gain some direction for engineering this transition in my book, The Career Lattice.  But I found that people needed the strategies in the book translated to a recipe, as it were.

That recipe is presented in an in-depth workshop, “Building Your Career: Lattice From Staff to Freelance,” which will be held on Saturday, May 2, in New York at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. The same workshop will be held on June 10, 2015, at Interlochen, the arts college just south of Traverse City, MI.

Join us as we plot your transition from the cubicle farm to self-direction, flexible days, and career growth determined by the goals you set and the clients you win and keep. I look forward to meeting you!


Let’s Pick a Fight With an Opinion Writer!

Doesn’t that sound like a winning strategy – to pick a fight with a contributor to the opinion pages of the tenth largest newspaper in America?

Yup, it just happened. To me. Over this.

Stein InnThat’s right. Someone read my Chicago Tribune personal essay about bed and breakfasts. My main point was that I’m not a fan. I think it’s a strangely co-dependent business model.   Fawning over the host’s recipes and decorating decisions is part of the price of admission. I prefer an anonymous room in an anonymous hotel. B&B’s are too close for comfort.

There’s a trade group for everything, and the executive director of an association of purportedly upscale inns decided to ream me out for my lighthearted essay.

Here’s what landed in my inbox:

I read your opinion piece about your unpleasant stay at some unnamed B&B in Northern Vermont.  Having represented the B&B industry for a long time, I hate to hear about negative experiences.
But, may I ask, what was the purpose of your piece?  Why did you feel compelled to use such a high profile opportunity to be so negative?  This isn’t a rhetorical question – I’m truly curious about the motivation or reasoning behind the publication of it.  You are a communications specialist who flexed her mastery of the English language in such a negative way.  It was surprising.  
Let’s unpack his assumptions:
  • I have a secret agenda for writing about a personal experience (after all, I was ‘compelled’; I have a ‘purpose’; and I have a ‘motivation’)
  • I’m “negative” X 2. He didn’t just disagree with me. He made a character judgment.

Here’s the truth: I had fun writing about a series of similar experiences at a particular type of establishment.

That’s it.

Here’s how I responded:

The point of a personal essay is to convey personal experience and a personal point of view. That’s what I wrote, and that’s why my essay was published in Perspective, the Tribune’s opinion section. 
You seem to think that B&B’s exist in a protected bubble and should be immune from comment. Nothing is – or should be – immune from comment in newspaper opinion pages.  
Of course, that didn’t end it. He continued to bray and I tried to wiggle away from his scolding and finally I just deleted his emails.
How my critic views bed & breakfasts

How my critic views bed & breakfasts

    Here’s a guy who represents supposedly the upper crust of an industry category that I think can be dusty, and sometimes crusty.
How I see bed & breakfasts

How I see bed & breakfasts

He had a chance to persuade me to think differently. Instead, he was petulant and paranoid. He could have simply introduced himself and his organization and said, “If you ever consider giving our industry a third chance, please let me know and I can help find the right fit.” That would have been gracious. And, to the point of his professional responsibilities, it would have turned his annoyance with my piece into a tiny step towards relationship.
Instead, he wrote what he did. I wrote this. And you’re reading it.

How to Use Your Hobby to Build Your Reputation through Media Mentions

I love to quilt.

Yes, I sewed this!  A few years ago, while scouting candidates for a big feature about women leaders at Fortune 500 companies, I found myself discussing quilting with another avid quilter.


She was in charge of driving sales for desktop color printers. While her engineers geeked out over the number of buttons and slide trays on the machine, she realized that the ability to print a full-color quilt pattern  at home changed everything for quilt designers. Instead of spending thousands of dollars printing, distributing and marketing printed patterns, they could sell their patterns as digital downloads. That could translate to more creative time and better cash flow.  Her insight resulted in a powerful marketing campaign that sold hundreds of thousands of printers.

Typically, professionals seeking to be quoted in media stories assume that what they bring to the party is their technical expertise. If you specialize in international taxes, that’s what you’d talk about with a reporter, right?

Yes, but it’s not all you bring. Your interests, volunteer work, life stage (new parent, empty nest),  and relationships (child, parent, sibling, friend, co-worker and so on) can be invaluable for reporters seeking ‘real life’  experiences that inject color, personality and humor into stories.

As I explained in Susan Weiner’s blog on smart writing for financial professionals, these angles are an often-overlooked way to build relationships with reporters. Additional benefits to being quoted about ‘who you are’ include:

  • Gaining confidence with on-the-record interviews.
  • Feeding search results with media mentions, which are given top priority in search algorithms. (Google doesn’t care if you were quoted about adopting a puppy or the nuances of merger law; it only cares that you were quoted by an independent news outlet.)
  • Building a reputation as a caring, interesting, three-dimensional person, thus creating context for current and potential clients.
  • Pushing out media mentions through your social networks.

Finding ‘real people’ sources can be frustrating and difficult for reporters. Solve that problem, and you are on your way to becoming a go-to person for the technical quotes and commentary that directly build your professional reputation.

MOVE Methodology Adopted Globally

By Joanne Cleaver

Do you love women?

Who doesn’t?

Every company loves women. Everyone’s all about women: recruiting them, retaining them, promoting them, helping them start companies, win investments, sponsoring them and helping them to learn and gain confidence.

Women are one of the biggest ongoing business news stories of the year.

And they continue being a story because, for all the confetti and marching bands, women still comprise a sliver of top leaders in nearly every industry.

Anything that translates the business case for advancing women to business results shows a new way forward. That’s why the certification for gender equality offered by EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) has been grabbing attention in the last few weeks. It’s a ‘seal of approval’ that verifies that an employer actually advances women into leadership. EDGE sounds new — but it isn’t.

The EDGE methodology is great. I’d know: I developed a virtually identical methodology in 1998 for Working Woman magazine.

Working Woman imploded in 2001, but the methodology lives on in the MOVE Project, an annual research effort that measures the proportion of women in various industries, such as public accounting. My firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., designed and manages various MOVE Projects. Currently, MOVE and EDGE vary slightly in the execution of the methodology, but remain largely aligned in purpose and process.

Here’s the secret behind the methodology used by both MOVE and the EDGE Certification: It’s not about how many women you have.

It’s what you do with them.

If 31% of your employees are women, as Facebook recently reported, and 23% of your senior employees are women, you are not making the most of the female talent you already have. Women under-index in the top ranks.

The beauty of this methodology is that it equalizes across industry, professional category and geography.

This eliminates the apples-to-orange-to-pears comparisons that result in recommendations so generic that they are meaningless. Yes, mentors, sponsors and coaches can make a huge difference. But how and when that difference translates from good intentions to good results varies by industry, by workplace culture and by the size and growth stage of each employer.

EDGE is just getting going, but we have over a decade of MOVE results that prove that this methodology works.

For example, women comprise 19% of the management committee members for the 50 CPA firms that participated in the Accounting MOVE Project this year. Women comprised 23% of the management committee members for the 10 largest CPA firms that have participated in MOVE for each of the past four years. As well, those ten firms have consistently improved how they retain and advance women in their partner pipeline. Every year, they do a little better.

MOVE gives them context for continually reinvesting in the women they need to fuel firm growth. When firms start to have measurable increases in women at top levels, they have evidence that they are living their values. That’s something to talk about. Increasingly, MOVE firms, such as Seattle CPA firm Moss Adams, publicly release their diversity efforts and results. Job candidates, clients, and anyone else who cares can see how women fare at these firms.

That’s why the approach shared by MOVE and EDGE is emerging as the standard for catalyzing genuine advances for women. It’s all about transparency and accountability. Don’t just say you love women. Prove it.

The One Thing Your Company Can Do to Get Better Financial Results by Advancing Women

Slowly, the dots are being connected.  Study by study, analysis by analysis, we’re figuring out what it takes to get women to to the top.

The latest in the string of revelations is that confidence is built when skills training is put into action. A new report from DDI and the Conference Board correlates corporate financial performance with higher proportion of women leaders and women high-potentials.

The top 20% performers in the study’s sample of global companies counted women as 37% of all leaders, and as 12% of all high potentials. But at the bottom-performing 20%, women accounted for 19% of all leaders and 8% of all high potentials.

One of the key factors:  leadership development programs don’t exist in a vacuum at the top-performing companies. Instead, programs are blended with real-life experience. It’s boots-on-the-ground experience that turns book knowledge to financial results.

Programs that make that link drive real results. That’s how accounting firm Rothstein Kass captured $6.5 million in top line revenue growth from its Rainmakers Roundtable program, designed by Melissa McClenaghan Martin of M3.

Mentoring and sponsorship are important, but it’s results that deliver direct return on advancing women. Skills training, put into action – and yes, that means taking calculated risks as women (and men) stride into new territory – might be the final missing link.