Women in Leadership: Jean Stephens, CEO

How RSM is inspiring its next generation of female leaders

Zoya Malik spoke to Jean Stephens, CEO, RSM International about the network’s Women in Leadership Summit

Jean Stephens
CEO, RSM International

Zoya Malik: RSM launched a new Women in Leadership Summit in 2021, can you tell us a little about what you wanted to achieve?
Jean Stephens: We are passionate about creating opportunities to amplify the voices of the people at RSM, so it was important to create a new platform for our talented and inspirational women to be seen, heard and understood. Having Candice Eaton Gaul join our team at the end of 2020 as the Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader allowed us to shape the Summits into a unique experience that brought RSM people together to discuss important topics.

While the target audience is the women of RSM, the Summit is open to all 48,000 people within the RSM global community; from those starting their careers at RSM; to long-time partners and of course everyone in between, recognising the significant role that allies, sponsors and champions play.

At the outset, we decided to only invite internal speakers to take part in each Summit to showcase the remarkable talent we have within the RSM Network. This is to raise our panellists’ profiles internally and also create role models for participants to connect with, which helps to foster personal, lasting connections between global colleagues.

We have actively sought panellists from different backgrounds and geographic locations. This means the experiences that are being shared are relatable, and diverse perspectives are conveyed in each conversation.

To date, we have held three Summits covering the topics; “Owning your career”; “Mentoring and feedback”; and “Building your personal brand”. During the discussions, the panellists were encouraged to share their perspectives and career journeys. By using live translations, it was possible to ensure wider inclusion and engagement from our diverse, multi-cultural Network.

In addition, we created bespoke training courses focused on the topics covered, which are now digitally available in a number of languages so participants who would like to continue to learn can do so when it suits them.

On the day of each live event, participants have the opportunity to pose questions to the panellists, leading to interesting and lively conversations and high levels of engagement. It is important to us that all voices are heard and so we make sure that every question is answered. The level of engagement to date has been fantastic.

Continuing these important conversations is high on our agenda, and so we also created the RSM Women in Leadership Community on LinkedIn. This allows our people to connect, build their own professional networks within RSM, share knowledge and continue to pose critical questions.

ZM: What has the feedback been like?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received great responses from the women of RSM who have been inspired to voice new ideas and opinions, to lead from where they are, and to actively shape their professional development and careers.

We have received feedback that many have been encouraged through the Summits to view a challenge as an opportunity, which has led to significant personal and professional growth. For me, the best feedback is when people connect with each other as a result of the RSM Women in Leadership Summit and Community. Those organic connections are what fosters a sense of belonging and creates an environment for creativity, innovation and exceptional client service to flourish.

During the first Summit one of the panellists mentioned the guilt she felt when returning to work following maternity leave, and the challenges faced as a mother of four children striving to advance in her professional career. This insight into one person’s lived experience opened up many conversations between genders and how societal expectations can be hard to overcome.

ZM: What does the future of the RSM Women in Leadership Summit look like?
Due to the positive response, I am pleased to say that we will continue to host the Summits. The challenge lies in ensuring these events add value, and continue to build on the foundation that we have set.

Accessibility is a big component of the success of the Summit, and therefore to ensure all of our colleagues across the Network can participate, I foresee this event remaining virtual. In a virtual environment we have the ability to connect personally across our vast Network, despite language differences, occupational levels and length of service. This level of open communication and engagement is something that all organisations should strive for, and RSM supports any initiative that encourages this.

We set out to amplify the voices of the women at RSM; to showcase our amazing talent; to provide role models; and to encourage curiosity. The RSM Women in Leadership Summit and Community is doing this while also encouraging organic connections and professional networking. I have really enjoyed the interaction with the panellists and audience during these events, and there is more to look forward to in 2022.