Lesley Mast, CPA, principal and director of tax services at Rea & Associates, joins Mark on episode 20 of unsuitable on Rea Radio to discuss society’s gender gap – specifically in the workforce. Throughout this dynamic conversation Lesley shares the progression of her own professional career path and talks about what it’s like to be a member of Rea’s Leadership Team. She also talks about the unique perspective women bring to business and problem–solving while emphasizing the importance of voice, contribution and participation, regardless of gender. Lesley points to the value of trust, and confidence in the workplace as key pillars to bridging the gender gap. Notably in this episode, Lesley discusses her internal struggle to find the delicate balance between passivity and aggression regarding roles in the business world. Lastly, the episode stresses the simple act of “speaking out” and “speaking up,” by encouraging conversations, while promoting the need to encourage more women to aspire to leadership roles.
Mark: Welcome to unsuitable on Rea Radio, the unique financial services and business advisory show that challenges your old school business practices and the traditional business suit culture. You’ll hear from industry professionals who think beyond suit and tie to offer meaningful modern solutions to help you enhance your company’s growth. I’m your host, Mark Van Benschoten.
Women play an essential role in the workplace, and they’ve made significant contributions to the advancement of our society, yet, the gender gap remains. As a father of three girls, I would like to believe that some day soon women will no longer struggle to have their voices heard, and that their contributions will be considered just as valuable as those of their male counterparts.
Today, we’re going to talk to Lesley Mast, a principal and director of our Tax Services here at Rea and Associates, who has undergone her own leadership journey. Today, Lesley is thriving in her role as a director of Rea’s tax practice. I’m excited to hear her thoughts about how we can close the gender gap, and why doing so is good for business.
Welcome to unsuitable, Lesley.
Lesley: Thank you.
Mark: Really glad that you’re here, and, as a proud father of three daughters, I’m very excited about this topic, and it does have an impact on business, and is something that needs to happen.
Mark: I was looking at your bio today prepping for this, and I saw that you have a sense of humor.
Lesley: I do.
Mark: I’m going to tell you something that I said that I think is hysterical. Nobody else might, but I think it’s hysterical. Then I’m going to ask you for something funny that you said. The other day, I was hanging out with some friends, and somebody wanted to swear at me, and they told me to, “Duck off.” I said, “I don’t appreciate your fowl language,” and I thought that was hysterical.
Mark: Yeah, just like that. Do you have a …
Lesley: That was terrible, by the way.
Mark: I thought it was hysterical, fowl language, duck off. I thought it was great. I was so proud of myself. Do you have a favorite joke?
Lesley: I don’t have a favorite joke. My memory is terrible, so I don’t even try to do any jokes. Maybe a knock knock joke. I’m trying to remember. Knock knock.
Mark: Who is there?
Mark: Nana who?
Lesley: Nana your business. That’s the best I can do.
Mark: No, that’s very good. I enjoy humor, also, and I enjoy making fun of myself, but I appreciate people that appreciate humor. I think appropriate humor has a place in the workplace, also.
Lesley: Absolutely. It’s how we survive most days.
Mark: Again, I have three daughters, and they’re currently 20, Victoria is still 18. She wishes she was 19, but she’s 18, and Eva is 12. I want the best for them. I don’t want any glass ceilings. I want them to be able to … Whatever they want to achieve, I want it to be open to them.
In your experience, do you think there’s a gender gap?
Lesley: I think the gender gap probably exists differently for everybody. I’ve been very fortunate in my career, especially here at Rea, that I had a very good mentor almost from day one, and so he was able to help me …
Mark: That’s not Gene Spittle, is it?
Lesley: No. Anyhow, I had a great mentor and a sponsor that has helped me really get to where I am today. Without his guidance, and his leadership, and influence in my life, I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know if I would be in this same spot. I’d like to think I would, but it may not have been as easy to get there.
Mark: Please be honest. We’re all humans. We all make mistakes, but do you think without it there might have been some issue here at Rea?
Lesley: There might have been. I certainly am not accusing anybody of doing that, but there could have been. I don’t know. I’m sure different people have experienced different things in their leadership growth, and it certainly is possible.
Mark: You’re right. We’re not trying to indict anybody here at Rea. This is obviously hopefully to promote Rea, but let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes people have a bias that they may not even recognize that could cause a gender gap.
Lesley: Absolutely. We want to try to work obviously to improve the number of Rea women in leadership at the firm here, and obviously our clients need to do the same thing.
Mark: Right. I have been reading things on diversity and inclusion, and a lot of the studies … Please don’t ask me the specifics, but they indicate that if you have a diverse group that includes women, your chances of success are far greater than if it’s just a bunch of old white men sitting in a room.
Lesley: Yes. I would tend to agree with that. As being a member of the Rea leadership team here, and being in a room of ten or more male leaders at the same time, there is definitely a different perspective that us ladies can provide, and so I really want to see more of us in that role.
Mark: I appreciate you speak up. You’re not passive. You provide your opinion, just as we expect every partner, male, female, we expect you’re in the room to contribute, and then we you to contribute, and you do. I’m a male. I’ve always been a male. I’m not Bruce Jenner or Caitlin Jenner, so it’s hard for me to sit there and say what’s this gap? You walk into the room. You contribute. You participate.
Lesley: I do. I probably give off a false sense of confidence, because every time before I speak, I want to throw up in my mouth. I want people to know that that’s a real thing. That really does happen. Even if I am comfortable and confident in my role and my position at Rea, I still get nervous, and that’s just my nature. I’m nervous now. It’s just how it is.
Mark: I would think males would have similar … Some people would feel that way.
Mark: But you think that your nervousness might contribute to some sort of, “Oh, look at Lesley. She’s weak. She doesn’t want to speak.”
Lesley: I think, like you said, the ability to speak in a group of high powered people is very intimidating, and some people just aren’t comfortable with that, and they never will be, regardless of whether they’re female or male, so there’s that. But I think if it’s an open space, and there’s trust within the group, then anybody can speak up and should be okay to do so.
Mark: I agree. My daughters tell me I don’t understand, I don’t understand.
Lesley: My six year is already telling me this.
Mark: You’re a white male. You don’t understand. They think I should be the world’s biggest feminist, because I want to promote my three daughters, which I do, and I am confused by that. I’m like what am I doing that’s not promoting that, and I think people struggle with that, like what can I do? I never want to hold anybody back. If I’m doing something, please tell me, so I can correct that.
Lesley: I think in this day and age, it’s so easy to offend somebody, and it’s very challenging to know what the right thing to do or say is. As a mother of a daughter, I often use my daughter, Elina, as an excuse as what I want to teach Elina in this moment, what I want her to do, and how to speak up for herself. I really try to make it personal when I’m in a situation and need to make my point or talk to somebody.
Mark: I think that’s great advice. It all, to me, comes down to relationships. As I work with a relationship with my children, I work with relationships of people that I work with, clients, internal, external, and like, okay, what do I want here? That’s inspiring that you have those conversations with your six year old.
Have you had any experiences, clients saying, “Lesley’s a woman. Where is the male team?”
Lesley: Right. When I first started at Rea, I was introduced to one of our largest clients, still a client, and my mentor and sponsor, as I mentioned earlier, was the in charge on the account, and they wanted to get me involved in it. We thought we would have challenges, because it’s an oil and gas client, and they, at that point, weren’t used to dealing with women so much. If they were dealing with women, they were the administrative staff that they were working with, so to have a female advisor in that role, pretty much overnight, was I think very challenging for them, but obviously we worked through it, and now I’m the in charge on the account and the partner in charge. It worked out okay.
Mark: Yeah. You wonder where these stereotypes come from, what the original genesis of those … How they came to be, and it’s unfortunate, and, hopefully, we’re get rid of those on a daily basis. It’s encouraging to hear you have females running for president. It could be Hillary versus Carly in the election. I’m not sure about Carly, but it looks like Hillary is going to get the Democratic vote. Who knows where Carly Fiorina is going to end up. That’s just encouraging to me, because, again, I just don’t understand why is there a gap? But, again, my daughters say, “You don’t understand, Dad. You’re a white male.”
Lesley: Right. I actually have a client, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Regula, who obviously was a congressman for a long time. Mrs. Regula was very influential in getting the first lady’s monument and museum up and running, and we, of course, talk politics when I go to visit them. She told me that regardless of what my political belief is, that I should vote for Hillary because she’s a woman. While I don’t know if I’ll get there … Obviously, I want the right person for the job, and that’s not maybe necessarily a woman, and so I think really trying to address the gender gap, the right person needs to be in the right role, and that’s I guess how I’ve always looked at it.
Mark: Sure. Right, the right person.
Mark: What are some things, as I maybe interact with my daughters, any suggestions for me?
Lesley: That’s a good question. I think as long as you can show them how to be confident and how to speak up for themselves, not necessarily in a gender way, but just in general to speak up for themselves when they feel maybe they’ve been wronged or the right decision was not made or something. I think showing them how to speak up for themselves and building their confidence is really the stepping stones of how you can help your daughters.
Mark: Great. Mike Taylor in his podcast, we asked him a question, and he was … People believe in themselves, and that seems to align exactly with what you’re saying.
Mark: You give them the confidence that they speak up. Is that where the gender gap exists, is that people view females as passive, that they don’t speak up?
Lesley: I think by nature women do tend to be more passive and maybe more accommodating in certain roles, and that accommodation is not always the best thing for the decision to be made or the conversation.
Lesley: I think that has a lot of impact on women’s role in the situation for sure.
Mark: Some perceived notion of you need to be passive. Okay, I’m going to be the good soldier. I’m going to be passive.
Lesley: Right. But then on the opposite side, I tend to worry about am I being too aggressive? Am I being too much like a male and trying to be dominant? Even if I am confident, I have the opposite feeling.
Mark: Wow. That must be a struggle.
Lesley: It is. I fight with myself every day.
Mark: If we see you talking in the corner to yourself.
Lesley: Right. My staff know that’s completely normal now. I mean it honestly is an internal struggle, and it’s something that each person has to try to work through honesty.
Mark: This is kind of sad. I work with somebody. I care about my daughters. I want them to reach their potential, whatever that potential is. I don’t want them saying, “Well, should I say this? No. Should I say that?” To go through that mental game must be exhausting.
Lesley: It can be stressful, but I try to keep the end in mind as to what I’m trying to accomplish or achieve in the moment, and how we need to make progress, and really coming to a conclusion on things. I think it’s important to have that confidence in moving forward.
Mark: Do you think people, families, businesses, should talk about the gender gap?
Lesley: I think so. I think the more publicity it gets, the more interaction there is around that, the better. Obviously it’s good to talk about sensitive issues, and get some understanding, and maybe some movement towards improving that. I started reading the book Lean In. I’m not quite through it yet, but there’s some really interesting concepts in that and how women should continue to be more involved. I like to see very public figures, like the author, being out there and putting herself out there and being a role model for others. That’s really what I see myself as here at Rea and with my clients, is being a role model for other young women staff coming into the firm, and just how I apply myself.
Mark: One thing I’ve learned just in the few minutes that we’re talking here, is to encourage people to speak.
Lesley: Absolutely, right.
Mark: Just things about myself. I’ve ever sat there, where you could see somebody. They want to speak and they just don’t, and say, “Hey, it looks like you have something to say,” and create a safe environment for them to provide their input.
Lesley: Right. I think you can invite people to talk more, and that will get them to interact more with the situation. Normally I tend to think in situations where there’s a large group, if you have a question, there’s at least five other people who have that same question, so put it out there, and you look like the trailblazer, because you brought it up, and it really wasn’t an original idea, but it was out there.
Mark: And you were the first one to speak. I think just talking about this and saying there might be people in the room that might not be willing to speak, and let’s encourage them and create a safe environment that no one’s going to jump down their throat or say, “That was silly.” That they have, “I can do this. I believe in myself. I can speak up.” Too bad the other two girls are off at school. I should maybe have them back for a weekend. I don’t know.
Lesley: It’s never too late. It’s never too late.
Mark: I’ll have to call them on the way home tonight.
Lesley: That’s right. Daddy learned a good lesson today.
Mark: They won’t believe it though. They might. You never know.
Anything else that you think that might … To me, having that conversation, this is huge. It’s not a big production. I think you just have a conversation. It seems so easy. I’m not sure why it doesn’t happen more frequently, but anything else that you might think of?
Lesley: I think people are still threatened by new ideas and new thoughts, and so encouraging conversations to happen between diverse people will only encourage more people to speak up. I think that’s important to continue to do.
Mark: I just know here in our office, there’s a group of us that go out to lunch, and it’s like six males.
Lesley: Tisk, tisk.
Mark: Why is that? I don’t believe it’s intentional, but do we ever ask the female? I don’t know.
Lesley: You may be sending the wrong message with your lunch group.
Mark: I could be. Now I feel guilty.
Lesley: You should.
Mark: I’m all primed to talk to my daughters tonight. Obviously I don’t intend to make people feel uncomfortable, but, by doing that, it very well could be perceived that way.
Lesley: Absolutely. I think things just unintentionally, innocently happen, and I think you recognizing that that might be an issue is a big first step in saying, “Oh, maybe this isn’t sending the message I want.” You obviously don’t want to exclude the ladies in the office from that kind of camaraderie and team building, and so maybe you ask a couple of them out the next time.
Mark: Great idea. I don’t know if I have lunch plans tomorrow, but I’ll look. To me, this is all about … To get back to business, but better decisions are made with more input from a diverse group.
Mark: If I can have a relationship with a diverse group, including females, I think it’s just going to benefit me. It’s not that there’s no reason I shouldn’t.
Lesley: Right. You’re definitely getting a different viewpoint. My life experiences, I’m sure, have been vastly different than yours and everybody else listening to this, their experiences have been different as well. You don’t capture all of that unless you open that up for conversation.
Mark: It’s a great point. Great point. Lesley, before we wrap up, I don’t know if you know about this. There’s a question we ask every guest. Hopefully, you’re ready for it. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Lesley: I would say learn how to communicate with my six year old better from the standpoint of being an effective parent, six going on sixteen.
Mark: Wow. That’s a tall task.
Mark: That might be the hardest super power anybody’s ever wished for here.
Lesley: Yeah. I was listening to the other ones to see what my competition was.
Mark: Did you listen to Kyle Stemple’s?
Lesley: No. I missed his. I don’t want to know.
Mark: Don’t go there. Thank you for joining us today, Lesley, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in. We’ve put some great resources up on our website to help you identify and mentor your company’s future leaders. You can access them at www.reacpa.com/podcasts. If you think unsuitable is useful and entertaining, and why wouldn’t you, please share it with a friend or a colleague. Don’t forget to subscribe to unsuitable on iTunes or Sound Cloud. Until next time, I’m Mark Van Benschoten for unsuitable on Rea Radio, encouraging you to loosen up your tie and think outside the box.