This Women’s History Month, I had the opportunity to talk with Kara Hamstra, a director in The Agency at Sikich and the leader of our Women’s Leadership Circle program. During our conversation, we discussed the mission of this leadership group and the positive impact our organization can have on building an inclusive, supportive culture for everyone.
CG: Happy Women’s History Month! Can you share some background on the Women’s Leadership Circle at Sikich?
KH: Thanks! Sikich’s Women’s Leadership Circle was formed in 2019 with a pilot group of women at Sikich. We quickly grew, though, and today, we have 14 “circles” made up of over 140 participants – both female and male – collectively. We founded the group on three core values:
- Confidentiality: Group members agree that what is discussed in their Circle meeting stays in the Circle meeting. This trust allows participants to share freely in a nonjudgmental, supportive community. During Circle meetings, we talk about both our professional and personal lives, and we want everyone to feel empowered to share openly.
- Communication: This confidentiality facilitates open and honest communication and empathetic listening within the group.
- Commitment: Members are asked to be fully present at each meeting. We encourage our participants to take this time for themselves and their colleagues and leave everything else at the door for the brief time we are together.
So far, each group has developed its own unique approach when connecting, basing the conversation around the varied personalities and interests of Circle members. It’s great to see what started as a small idea blossom into 14 unique groups of individuals.
CG: What is the goal of this program?
KH: The goal is to create a supportive and safe community for colleagues to share ideas, seek advice, gain skills and help one another. We want our team members to feel welcome to participate in the group regardless of tenure, age, race, gender or location.
CG: I’ve always been a proponent of promoting inclusivity across all levels of the organization. How does the women’s leadership initiative support this mission?
KH: Each Circle brings together women from a wide variety of backgrounds, experience levels and demographics into one compassionate setting with a common goal of supporting and encouraging each other. As a member of the pilot Circle, I’ve found tremendous value – both personally and professionally – in being able to sit down with women from an expansive cross-section of the firm to act as a sounding board for each other and to celebrate wins and offer comfort in times of losses. Most of the women in my Circle are coworkers from other offices or service areas that I would have never met or worked with if not for this group. Having access to their perspectives and shared backgrounds is so incredibly valuable. As always, it’s also a good reminder of the importance of seeking a variety of unique voices to help grow and change.
CG: Have the individual Circles gotten together as a whole before?
KH: In December 2020, the Circles got together to host a virtual conference – this was open to our entire company, not just Leadership Circle members. We had over 200 attendees join us to hear from Lori Kaiser, our keynote speaker and CEO of Kaiser Consulting. Lori is a trailblazer in the professional services industry and is an outspoken proponent of female empowerment and mentoring women in the profession. During her speech, Lori shared her thoughts on how establishing flexible workplace policies can help encourage a creative and innovative culture. She also discussed the importance of mentorship in developing strong leaders.
CG: How is the Women’s Leadership Circle celebrating Women’s History Month?
KH: Currently, we’re collecting stories from our colleagues across the firm that celebrate the incredible women at Sikich. An individual can submit a story, and then that messaging is shared firm-wide in honor of our female colleagues’ inspirational stories. We’ve received so many submissions and are thrilled to share them with the entire organization.
CG: Oftentimes, men can feel like they shouldn’t participate in these types of programs. How do you show men it’s both important and okay to support and engage with women’s leadership initiatives?
KH: Since the Circle’s inception, we’ve actually received a lot of interest from the men at Sikich asking how they can support the initiative and get involved. The point of women-led groups and missions isn’t to alienate or exclude men, and in the case of our Circles, we encourage everyone within Sikich to get involved and help drive our mission of inclusivity and support. Currently, Sikich trainings and programs within the Women’s Leadership Circle initiative are open to everyone at Sikich.
CG: What’s next for the Circles?
KH: We’re continuing to meet virtually within our respective Circles and working to develop learning sessions about coaching and leading, building confidence, navigating conflict, managing stress and more! We also have a panel of Sikich leaders lined up to present on their personal and professional journeys in May.