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Wipfli’s LEAP for women helps set a path to leadership

June 22, 2022 was an important day for the advancement of women at Wipfli. That afternoon the 12 inaugural members of Wipfli’s Leadership and Executive Accelerator Program (LEAP) came together with their 10 executive sponsors from the firm for a spirited online graduation celebration.

The gathering recognized last year’s successful launch of the initiative to increase opportunities for women associates interested in promotions to the senior manager, director, partner and principal ranks. The WoW (Women of Wipfli) business resource group has committed in recent years to developing the program to improve that trajectory in conjunction with the firm’s stepped-up attention to its recruitment and retention practices.

LEAP involves pairing women associates with an interest in and high potential for leadership with sponsors from the executive leadership ranks. As advocates for their assigned LEAP class member, sponsors help their sponsees define and work toward their success goals.

At LEAP’s first graduation event, the impact practically spoke for itself. The Wipfli associates and executive sponsors who supported them through the 12-month program were bursting with pride. Even through computer screens, the participants’ bolstered confidence and excitement about the program’s impact were hard to miss.

Firmwide relationships

“LEAP provided me an opportunity to invest time in myself and identify who I want to be as a leader,” said Nicole Pierringer, an audit manager in Milwaukee. “It pushed me outside of my comfort zone and gave me the chance to talk to leaders across the firm about their journeys and ultimately to create a network of support amongst those leaders.”

Nicole’s sponsor expressed similar enthusiasm. “The program far exceeded my expectations,” said Christina Trapp, CPA, a partner who also served as sponsor to participant Tiffany Stark. “Tiffany was new to Wipfli and didn’t really know anybody. Now she has great contacts and has built relationships that can really help her in her career. It’s been exciting for her and exciting for me to see that.”

During the LEAP program, Tiffany, based in the Helena, Montana office, was promoted to senior manager.

Tiffany echoed her appreciation for being able to amp up her relationships at Wipfli through LEAP. “Just being able to connect with other leaders outside of my service line and outside of my region, it’s been wild,” she said. “LEAP is an extended opportunity of connections and support.”

The selection process for the 2023 class at Wipfli is underway. Candidates are required to be members of WoW. They must be high-performing managers with at least two years of experience at the "manager" level. They must be willing to commit to meeting with their sponsor from 12-15 hours over the course of the program. They should be able to articulate their career aspirations at Wipfli and what their vision of success looks like.

Two-way learning

Sheila Fisher, CPA, senior manager and WOW talent chair who was part of the LEAP steering committee, noted that having some male sponsors proved to be eye-opening for all involved. “They expressed realizations about how much unconscious bias they had about the experiences of women at the firm,” she said. “They were unaware about the struggles that some women face.”

Welcoming men to also serve as sponsors as well as women drives allyship, said Lora Murphy, a Wipfli Financial principal and national vice chair for WoW, who also helped launch the LEAP effort. “It helps us to have more allies.”

Envisioning success

While participation in the program is no guarantee of a promotion, nor is it required to advance at the firm, it’s been a well-received addition to help Wipfli associates identify and pursue the most meaningful career path for them.

Applications for the next LEAP class are being reviewed over the summer, with an announcement of the new class expected in early September.

Wipfli managing partner Kurt Gresens offered his support for the program during the graduation.

“It’s heartwarming to see the impact that you all can make on our firm,” he said. “It’s a commitment by all the people who are part of this program to make this firm better. Continue to develop yourselves and help develop others as you pay it forward.”

LEAP is just one program run by WoW which is focused on cultivating an environment where women have an equitable opportunity to achieve their goals and envision what success looks like to them. WoW, which launched in 2020 as part of Wipfli’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, also offers weekly facilitated Conversation Circles on timely business topics, and other events focused on everything from networking and self-care to a class on building a desktop garden.

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