Model Practice Forum W

Moss Adams LLP

Industry: Accounting and Consulting

Principle II: Work-Life Balance and Career Development

Principle IV: Management and Governance

Principle VII: Leadership, Transparency, and Accountability

At Moss Adams LLP, cultivating women’s careers is a clear business case that requires the utmost attention. If the firm fails to do this, it will forfeit its investment in talent and disrupt the ability to provide the level of service that clients expect.

Women have historically been underrepresented at top levels of the accounting profession, and Forum W is one way Moss Adams is changing that. Moss Adams launched Forum W in 2008 with the mission to attract, develop, retain, and advance talented women at the firm. The spirit of the initiative is very much about valuing diversity, paying it forward, and changing the industry from the inside out. Women now represent over half of the firm’s talent base and Moss Adams continues to see higher numbers of talented women reach top levels at the firm since launching the program.

"Forum W is more than just a program at Moss Adams, it’s how we think and act. It’s helped us build an inclusive culture not only based on gender, but across all beliefs, ethnicities, orientation, or other traits that make us unique." 
Wenli Wong

The gender balance of the entire business world is shifting, and women are increasingly the leaders and owners of the organizations Moss Adams serves. It is incumbent on Moss Adams to reflect that diversity. This allows the firm to have a stronger connection with its diverse client base and, in effect, a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Combining different perspectives also fosters innovation, which is necessary to be a leader in the industry.

How does this model practice work?

To provide Moss Adams women with tools, resources, networking opportunities, and skill-building programs to ensure they have the knowledge and connections they need to advance, Forum W focuses on four key areas which are vital in helping women succeed at the firm:

• Dialogue. Listening to women regarding their career goals and experiences at Moss Adams.
• Networking. Establishing a solid foundation of relationships both inside and outside the firm.
• Mentoring. Connecting those who are developing with those who have already achieved.
• Advancement. Providing ample growth opportunities and encouraging the pursuit of leadership roles.

Forum W has a two-pronged approach to executing on strategy. The firm-wide Forum W Advisory Board develops and executes on the firm-wide strategy and office champions (local network leaders) lead the strategy for their local office network. Creating networks in each office acknowledges that women succeed and flourish within the environment of their office, and empowers the office champions to host and develop programs to address the specific needs of women in their office.

Mentoring and sponsorship continues to be a key Forum W priority. Women partners are encouraged to “pay it forward” to junior women in the firm. The firm understands it is also important for women to seek men as mentors and sponsors. It is critical to connect women with influential leaders across the firm who will provide career advice and act as an advocate regardless of gender.

Culture change is a journey. Part of the journey is setting goals and being accountable for those goals. To measure success, Forum W set goals focused on how the culture would change in the short-, mid-, and long-term.

• Short-term (2009- 2010): Generate activity and meaningful dialogue regarding women’s careers and experiences at Moss Adams.
• Mid-term (2011- 2013): Increase women’s satisfaction with the quality and quantity of mentoring, expand their internal and external networks, and continue to increase dialogue.
• Long-term (2014 – Beyond): Increase in retention and advancement of women and embed Forum W in the firm’s culture.

Moss Adams also reports Forum W’s progress in an annual report, available to all employees and externally, which highlights progress towards goals and other achievements throughout the year. In addition, firm-wide and office-specific Forum W scorecards are issued annually to evaluate Forum W’s impact through key diversity metrics: the advancement of women to leadership positions, promotions to senior manager, partner admissions, headcount, employee engagement, new hires, and turnover.

"The Moss Adams Forum W culture is made by our people. If in the past, the full humanity and potential of women was not part of our culture, we have evolved to make it our culture. At Moss Adams, we recognize and celebrate both our heroes and she-roes, as Maya Angelou says." 
Fiona Pineda
Senior Manager

One metric where the firm has seen significant growth is in the percentage of women partners. The firm has successfully increased this amount from 21% (2009) to 26% (2016). This exceeds the industry average (23%) for the percentage of women who hold partner positions and it speaks volumes to Forum W’s efforts toward advancing women.

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

Moss Adams has created a step-by-step guide called Link by Link: A Guide to Forming a Women’s Network at Your Organization.

The steps include:

1. Women and networks
o A women’s network is a formal effort designed to improve an organization’s ability to attract, develop, retain and advance women by building their professional networks through the act of effective networking.
o Networks develop leadership skills and expose women to career development opportunities, professional support, and insights into the unwritten rules needed for advancement.

2. Building the business case
o An effective business case communicates how the network will positively impact the organization and the issues and trends affecting women in the organization and industry.
o Describe what’s occurring in the business environment and the industry, and use metrics and research to validate the business case.

3. Creating the network vision
o Make sure all the elements of the network’s brand—the words, images, and designs—project positive and dynamic energy.
o Establish a mission statement that identifies priorities and frames how the network will reach its goals.

4. Establishing network leadership
o Creating a leadership or board to lead the network for the entire organization is a critical step because the group can ensure consistent and focused attention.
o Select board members based on their ability to think strategically, influence others, act as role models, and facilitate change.
o The board provides thought leadership and is an advocate of the business case and network activities, which minimizes duplication of effort and increases accountability.

5. Launching the network
o Officially launch networks in each location (or business unit) with a kickoff event to set an appropriate tone.
o At the event, present the business case, and then break into small groups to discuss women’s unique career needs and how a network can help them.
o Use pilot launches to build momentum and establish internal best practices for the network.

6. Sustaining the Network
o Stay relevant by ensuring activities support the mission and long-term goals of the network and the organization.
o Visibility will establish credibility and increase support.
o Encourage network leaders and steering committees to develop and host activities that promote learning, sharing of information, and building connections.
o Event promotional material should communicate the purpose and how it relates to the network’s mission.
o Track, measure, and consistently report the network’s growth and impact.
o Include men at selected events so they can learn about the challenges women face advancing in the workforce.
 How to frame this inclusion of men: This began as a journey for women, but it is actually a journey toward inclusion across broader identity groups.
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