A Smoother Operator You Will Never See: Superwoman Rosalie Mandel

mandel_rosalie_rgbIn an age when professional women are still struggling to get noticed in their careers, sometimes it takes more than just being great at your job to pull ahead. But it takes a truly ardent individual to lead the charge for all women in their industry. I credit this month’s Superwoman with accomplishing all of this, and in a manner that I’ve rarely encountered in business. Rosalie Mandel is the mother of the effective corporate women’s initiative, and a woman truly ahead of her time.

When Rosalie made partner at RKCO in 1995, she reflected on the obstacles and the differences in mindset that made her journey a challenge. I compare it to wearing combat boots in a marathon while her male colleagues were wearing custom sneakers. By 1996, she started to make her case: Women need a different kind of support than men in rising up the career ladder. They needed to follow a different roadmap, as women have curves and hills ahead of them that men can cut straight through. Thus, I would pinpoint Rosalie’s superpower as the precision and patience with which she built out her vision.

It took tenacity and resilience for Roaslie to finally make her case to her managing partner. Ironically, he was a champion of this initiative from the start. However, he didn’t realize the complexity of the issues until Rosalie made it personal. Alas, there is a difference between having a flexible schedule and being passed up for partner because the culture was skewed to a man’s way of doing business. In fact, it wasn’t until Rosalie’s third pitch to him that she framed the big picture effectively, using his daughter as the example. Of course he didn’t want his daughter to navigate without guidance at the workplace, to be judged unfairly, or to be underpaid comparable to her value. With his new perspective, this evolved man saw the light.

Making The Case

Believe it or not, this was just the beginning of Rosalie’s long road. After receiving the honor of leadership, she was compelled to clarify her vision and create a business case for her colleagues. Included were the talking points for a holistic women’s initiative: More than 50% of first-year accountants are women; There was an obvious trend towards women buyers; Women do business differently than men. Additionally, Rosalie could put numbers to the expense of turnover, which is substantial. This could potentially differentiate RKCO from their competition, AND help Rosalie’s colleagues enjoy greater success.

Rosalie’s first hurdle was to get her male colleagues on board and begin to change the direction of the RKCO corporate culture. So, she traveled to each RKCO office and offered a strategic PowerPoint presentation to the population. For each office, she created a custom slide with the names of every person at that location. She then employed a function that caused the women’s names to fly off the screen….each one a familiar colleague who did great work and was a positive influence on their colleagues. The effect was visceral because it became personal, which provided some serious momentum for program buy-in.

LIFE Begins

It was a tough road at the beginning, but one worth traveling. For the first few years, it was just Rosalie and one other woman taking ownership of the challenge. They started by building awareness about what holds women back, and built upon the programming from there. And don’t forget, this was all accomplished IN ADDITION to tending to her clients, raising two children, and keeping her busy career rolling. It was a slow and laborious process, but then again, Rosalie was assuming the role of changing a corporate culture organically, which is not expected to yield results overnight.

In a culmination of efforts, LIFE launched in 2008. During the 3rd, 4th and 5th years of the program, RKCO won $6.5 million in new business, plus another $2.5 million in other opportunities! The participants of LIFE are disproportionately swamping the partner track, with many already in the position of partner, and a handful of others as Managing Directors. On a personal note, each time I speak with a LIFE participant, she is vocally grateful to Rosalie for the care and opportunities she’s provided.

There’s a Chinese proverb about the breeze from a butterfly’s wing being felt around the world. I feel this applies poetically to Rosalie and her efforts. This Superwoman has changed the way female accountants succeed in their careers, not just at RKCO, but throughout the business world. Rosalie: We’re all looking forward to the evolution of women’s opportunities, and to tying their successes back to your selfless, revolutionary approach.