March 14, 2013

Women on the Frontlines

Women on the Frontlines

The firestorm ignited by Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, follows on the heels of the other heated career debate earlier this year when the U.S. military dropped the rule banning women from serving in ground combat. Both provoked impassioned responses from women and men, and the camps on both sides of both issues were split.

As dissimilar as they may seem, the two have something essential in common. They are both about the role of women on the front lines. I will leave the military policy question to others to figure out, while I weigh in on the business leadership issue.

Ms. Sandberg’s ostensible message is that women who want to climb to the top of the corporate “jungle gym” need to assert themselves single-mindedly to successfully navigate the direct and indirect pathways that lead to the prize. As Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, a former vice president at Google and the mother of two young children, she writes from a position of credibility, even if her experience and advice are not necessarily universal. It depends who you ask.

What is universal is that women (and men) who want to get ahead in their careers need to put in time on the front lines of the business. Ask any of the women business leaders at Marcum.

My female partners are all in the trenches. They handle clients. They bill. They collect. They bring in new business. They hire and, when necessary, they fire. They are all responsible for their own bottom lines. And as a result, they have risen to leadership positions. We don’t discriminate here. It doesn’t matter if you are male, female or other. Those who produce are rewarded. Those who don’t are invited to pursue their other life passions.

Several key practice areas in our Firm were actually started by the women who lead them: our Alternative Investments Group, by Beth Wiener; the Family Office Practice, by Rorrie Gregorio; the Technology Assurance Group, which advises our clients about data integrity, by Heather Bearfield; and the LGBT & Non-Traditional Family Group by Nanette Lee Miller (who also heads our California Assurance Division). In fact our LGBT group has won the Firm a lot of prominence this year (as well as new business), as Nanette and her team, including Janis McDonagh, have given numerous media interviews to explain the tax implications of the Defense of Marriage Act, on which the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this spring. It has been very exciting and rewarding to see this new group develop and begin to thrive.

Other more traditional practice groups also have women leaders, including Elizabeth Mullen in International Taxation; Carolyn Mazzenga in High Net Worth; and Cecelia Garber in Matrimonial and Divorce. In fact, Carolyn and Cecelia are also both Partners-in-Charge of Marcum offices, in Melville, Long Island, and our South Florida region, respectively. As PICs, both of these women also serve on the Firm Executive Committee, where they sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts and help make the hard decisions about how to keep Marcum profitable and growing.

No shrinking violets, these women. The sky’s the limit, as far as they – and the rest of us – are concerned. Beyond the Firm walls, they are all routinely honored and feted by their professional and business communities, and are sought out as presenters for panels and conferences and as contributing authors for industry journals and business newspapers. Resting on their laurels is not in their operating manuals. And that’s the point.

In the “do more with less” culture that has become the norm for most companies since the Great Recession of 2008, rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty on the forward-most front lines of the daily battle to succeed in business is what has enabled women leaders to emerge and to thrive at our Firm. In this I am sure we’re not alone. It’s the only formula for success – at Facebook, the U.S. military or at Marcum.

Carolyn Mazzenga contributed to this posting.