By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Is there gender bias in the business valuation industry? As is often the case, it depends on who you talk to.
Following our interview with Linda Schaeffer, Nancy Fallon and Gale Crosley in the Q1 issue of Business of Valuation, we heard from Ralph Arnold who reminded us that Columbia Financial Advisors, in Portland, had been a majority woman owned firm for 15 years. So, we reached out to talk to Columbia Principals Mary McCarter and Donna Walker.
BORROWMAN: Was there ever a time when you said to yourselves, “Hey, we’ve got a majority woman-owned practice, here.”
MCCARTER: We don’t even think about it. Donna and I were working for Shannon Pratt at Willamette Management. About a year after he sold the firm four of us (three women and one man) decided to start our own practice. Of the six principals in the firm, currently, four are women.
BORROWMAN: Are there particular advantages that women bring to valuation that they might not be aware of?
WALKER: I’ve seen some clients who would take a more combative approach with a man. With women across the table, you can sense that they might want to, but they won’t. Maybe it’s just the way they’re brought up.
MCCARTER: That may be disappearing as you get a younger generation.
WALKER: Mary and I had client that clearly did not want us there. I think if we had been two men, they would have been much more aggressive, much more unpleasant. They just could not bring themselves to be that way with two women. It killed them, but …
MCCARTER: One thing I think is worth mentioning is that this career is especially suitable to women because it is project-oriented work, which means it can be worked around schedules and families. The other thing that is different from a public accounting firm is the time demands that can come with a busy season. It was great to be able to work my kids into my career.
BORROWMAN: Are there any “ways of operating” that women need to “un-learn” in order to be successful in valuation?
MCCARTER: I think women, in general, need to be able to take constructive criticism. Guys grow up and are used to being yelled at by a coach. They take it and let it go. Women tend to hold on to these things. If I’m reviewing your work, maybe there are some problems with it. That’s okay. We just have to get it fixed and move on. Again I think this is changing with the younger generation of women who have grown up in team sports.
WALKER: I’m thinking about the need to be assertive. Sometimes there are times when you can’t compromise. And for some women, that is a little more difficult.
MCCARTER: In valuation, you are an advocate for your value, never an advocate for your client. We do have pressure from clients to alter values. Women are raised to be pleasers but your job is not to please your client, it is to arrive at a well reasoned and supported value conclusion. Sometimes that is a value your client will not like. .
BORROWMAN: What has been the seriousness of gender bias you’ve experienced in business valuation? How have you responded to it?
WALKER: I’ve had almost none. It’s never been so overt that it smacked me in the face.
MCCARTER: I feel very fortunate that I have experienced very little gender bias. Never from an employer. I have experienced it occasionally with clients. I pretty much ignored it and just went on and did my job.
WALKER: Some of it is attitude. Occasionally, three-quarters of the way through a meeting I’ll realize I’m the only woman in the room. But, I’ve never come into a room thinking, “Oh, I’m the only woman here.” So, I do think I’ve never met the bias. But, maybe I’ve never been looking for it, either. I’ve always gone in there just thinking to myself, “I hope I have all the right answers to their questions”. Not whether I’m male or female.
MCCARTER: For the young women coming up, the thing to realize is that if you are poised and smart and you can communicate, you will win them over. It may take a little more work, but you will win them over.
Donna and I were trying to think if there were any clients that hired us because we were women. I think there may be a few cases we’ve gotten because we were women. Maybe it was a woman CFO, or there were a couple cases where it gave us an advantage. There are probably a couple cases where it worked against us. But, overall, people are hiring experience and expertise. 99% of the time, it’s not going to make a difference whether you’re a man or a woman.