By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“As a woman in a challenging industry, making principal is something I’m extremely proud of. But working on a flex schedule while I did it is even more of an achievement for me,” said Rosalie Mandel, Principal of the alternative investments accounting firm Rothstein Kass‘s New Jersey office. Mandel is an exuberant supporter of women in accounting, she believes that firms can be more successful when they fully support the work/life needs of their employees. That means supporting talented women with flexible schedules that make sense for their individual lives.
She said, “I really don’t believe in work/life balance – I believe in integration. How do you define success? That’s your balance.”
Career in Accounting
Having been with the Rothstein Kass for twenty years, Mandel was the first woman at the firm to negotiate a flex schedule – and the first one to become principal of an office while working a shortened work week.
“I was the first woman promoted to principal at Rothstein Kass while on a flexible schedule. Since that time, both women and men at our firm have taken advantage of this program to pursue a wide range of interests, from starting a family to charitable endeavors. It just demonstrates that the firm really supports work / life integration.”
Mandel studied accounting at Farleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey. “I loved accounting because I loved numbers and I loved the way everything fit,” she recalled. But her real enthusiasm for the industry comes from working with people. Mandel said that her generation of accountants was the first to have equal numbers of men and women graduating college and entering the field. She’s enjoyed being an active part of changes to the industry over the years.
For instance, when she started as an accountant, women were only allowed to wear skirt suits – navy blue, she recalled. “One day there was a snowstorm, and I showed up in pants. It was a practical decision that got the organization to reconsider our existing policy. Within weeks, everyone was wearing pants to the office. In reality, that’s how change is often initiated.”
She was also the first at her firm to negotiate for a significant amount of time off for maternity leave. “When I had my first child, I was out for six months – right during tax season. There was no such thing as maternity leave then, but the firm didn’t flinch. When I contacted our Managing Principals they basically said, ‘Tell me what you want.’ I told them I wanted to work three days a week, and they said ‘go do it.’ They understood the organizational benefits right away.” she recalled. Then, almost as soon as she returned to the firm, she was pregnant again – and was able to take another six months off.
“Because leadership ranks have predominantly been populated by men, industry policies, procedures, and systems have historically been built by men. Most firms have taken tangible steps to change that. Our firm had the vision to see the benefits of flexible scheduling – and it’s never said no. We’ve had an official flex policy since 1999.”
“I’ve learned along the way that sometimes, it’s just a matter of speaking up,” Mandel explained. “You have a voice. Use it!”
By speaking up, she said, female professionals are paving the way for the next generation of leaders – and ensuring that they stick around. She almost left the industry as a young accountant herself. “When I started in accounting, there was only one female role model at the top. And when you look up and there’s not really anyone who looks like you, you can’t see yourself there. You deselect yourself for leadership.”
She continued, “Hard work is not always enough. I was also fortunate to have great mentors who guided me toward success.”
Mandel started the firm’s women’s initiative as a way to keep young women on track to leadership within the firm. “You start to see differences at a certain point in your career. Right when you go into the manager level – that’s when you see the numbers shift in accounting.”
“I founded our women’s initiative LIFE (Leadership, Inspiration, Family, Empowerment) in 2007. I feel like I’m making a difference – I’d like to leave a legacy. I want women to know that you have the full power to make it – don’t deselect yourself. You can do it. And there are role models who want to help you and guide you along the way.”
The Importance of Mentoring
Mandel started the firm’s LIFE program about five years ago. “And at first there was only one member. Formally, there are now fifty committee members, but nearly all employees participate in the program,” she said. “We have a steering committee with high level individuals, our managing partner, and then in each office we have a committee to handle the grassroots regional needs.”
“I’m really proud of it. We’re cultivating the leadership coming up, and I want women to stay. It’s about leadership.”
She continued, “When I first started I thought it was just all about accounting – that it was just about numbers. Another piece is leadership and generating business. I didn’t even think about that at the time.”
Mandel said one of the group’s main platforms is mentoring, and providing advice and guidance to talented women. “We started internally with women, and then we said ‘let’s go outside.’”
The firm partners with the Garden State Women’s Foundation to mentor female rising stars in inner city schools and provide scholarships. “We brought the girls into the firm and they shadowed us to learn about the corporate environment.”
She added, “The girls really shocked me – they were so self-aware! So poised and ready for life. I felt like a proud mother – there’s nothing better than helping others.”
Similarly, the firm is also performing research to delve into the lack of women in the larger professional environment. “At Rothstein Kass, a big part of our business is the financial services and alternative investments arena. And there just aren’t that many women in the industry. We do a survey every year on the industry, and we realized that hardly any of the respondents were women. But we know there are women in the industry. So we came up with a survey specifically for women.”
She continued, “Out of that survey, we saw that networking, mentoring, and developing those key relationships is really important to building your career.”
“Much of the informal networking and mentoring that men do occurs organically through shared interests. For example, a group of men might be talking about football when the conversation turns to business opportunities. Just by being a part of the conversation, these men often have an edge when it comes to hiring or business origination decisions. Women need to do more of this sort of networking to create an equal playing field.”
Advice for Women
Mandel added, “It all goes back to that basic question – ‘what does a leader look like?’ We have to raise awareness of how it looks different for women than for men.”
She said, “Women often like to put their head down and work and men think about leadership much earlier in their careers. We need to think about leadership much earlier.”
“Don’t deselect yourself,” Mandel advised young women beginning their careers. “You have to realize that you have the full potential to make it.”
She also advised young women to find a job they are passionate about. “That’s when you’re really going to succeed,” she said. “And always persevere. If things happen along the way, you get through it and become a better person because of it.”
She noted the importance of learning to delegate – both at work and personally. “Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ve got to have a support system.”
For more senior women, she continued, “What’s really important is to mentor those coming up behind us. We have the experience, and we know what it’s like out there. It’s upon us to turn around and take those women and pull them along.”
For women interested in forming their own women’s initiatives, she advised, “You’ve got to have that rate of return.” Building a program that brings in business or saves money helps build value for the firm, for your career, and for the initiative itself. Mandel explained, “Obviously it’s changed out there – and everyone wants to help out. Because when you have a successful firm, that means you’re successful.”
In Her Personal Time
Outside the office, Mandel, who has two children, who recently participated in a triathlon. She enjoys working out and dancing. “I teach my daughter’s dance class, and coach her softball team, and I play golf,” she said. “I also have a great husband – he’s very supportive of me.”
She also is involved in charities related to Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and juvenile diabetes.