Q&A with Raelyn Davis, Head of Friedman’s Women’s Development Network
Raelyn Davis is an audit principal in the consumer products practice at New York-based Friedman LLP, a fast-growing accounting firm that’s well known for its outstanding work/life balance, culture, benefits, diversity, and training. In addition to working in audit at Friedman, Raelyn is involved in recruiting at the firm, a mentor to its younger professionals, a member of Friedman’s CPE committee and perks committee, and the head of its Women’s Development Network. Recently, we spoke with Raelyn about her career trajectory, Friedman’s culture, the firm’s Women’s Development Network, her advice for students looking to break into accounting, and more. Below is an edited version of that discussion.
Can you talk a little about your background—where you grew up, went to school, and your career trajectory to Friedman?
Raelyn: I’m from New Jersey, and attended Fordham University for my B.S. in accounting and Rutgers University for my master’s of accountancy. During college, I had a tax internship at a small firm in NYC, then worked full time at a mid-size firm in NYC for five years. I loved tax law and had intended to continue my tax work at that first full-time job, but the firm requirement was to work in the audit department for the first year. I wound up liking audit so much that I never went back to tax. That firm gave me a solid technical foundation in audit methodology and strong industry knowledge in apparel, but also gave me the opportunity to spend time doing nonbillable work that fueled me—like recruiting, teaching CPEs, planning firm-sponsored events, being a member of the women’s network, and more. I moved on, joining Friedman in 2015 as a senior, and have been at the firm ever since. I continue to love the audit and client work I do and find it fulfilling to be involved in other ways: recruiting, mentoring, the CPE committee, the Women’s Development Network, etc.
How would you describe Friedman’s culture?
At Friedman, everyone genuinely respects each other and collaborates effectively. It’s a place where you truly get out of it what you put into it. The company regularly requests employee feedback, and also responds to that feedback and often swiftly implements changes as a result of it. The biggest shift I felt when I first came over was that I was trusted to get my work done and given the autonomy I was seeking. In turn, I have flowed that same trust and respect to the people I work with.
Could you speak about Friedman’s Women’s Development Network—when it was founded and who is part of it?
Friedman’s Women’s Development Network (“WDN”) was founded in 2013 by our current co-managing partner, Harriet Greenberg. She continues to be the group’s advisor and still champions its causes—it’s been key to have her support and approval. The WDN’s mission statement is to recruit, retain, and promote women within the Friedman network while cultivating professional and personal development in an environment where leadership and integrity are paramount. It’s a group that gets together to provide resources to the women of the firm. We have a board of women representatives from nearly all Friedman offices, totaling about 18 members, plus local committees of women who assist the board members. Our target audience is primarily all the women in the firm, but we also occasionally invite women from our affiliated firms through the DFK network to events and sometimes sponsor firmwide events.
What type of events does WDN typically host?
We accomplish being a resource to the women of Friedman by hosting events that promote learning, charitable giving, internal and external networking, and mentorship. We first survey the women of the firm to hear what’s important to them, and the board works hard to come up with new themes and venues each year. But most people’s favorite event is the one we try to do each year in June, which is our golf event. The main event is either a golf clinic or playing nine holes in a low-pressure learning environment, followed by a speaker/panel and food. It’s a break from the office, and the only event each year where women from all the Friedman offices try to get together (which is a feat given how spread out we have become). We usually get great feedback because it’s a chance to learn or hone an important skill while getting the chance to spend time together.
Could you speak about the importance of informal and formal mentoring at Friedman (both within the WDN and outside of it)?
Mentorship is hugely important. If done right, it makes people feel connected to each other and to the firm, which is something that’s hard to replicate. At Friedman, we have informal and formal mentoring available for all employees of all levels. I personally have utilized this resource by being a mentee and mentor. WDN tackles mentoring by hosting events like roundtables about alternative work arrangements and time management, hearing from a panel of partners about their path to partnership, and planning events about networking and business development, etc. Mentorship and networking are the top two requests we got from the women of the firm this past year—and we have listened.
Already, we’ve taken steps to create a formal mentorship program aimed at our women staff through senior mentees, which we expect to roll out in the second quarter of 2022. Women managers through new partners were able to utilize a new mentor program through DFK’s International Women in Leadership (“IWIL”) committee starting in September 2021, so we think we’re well-covered. As a member of the DFK IWIL committee, I helped to create this formal mentor program, which spans the international DFK network of firms. It’s been a benefit to so many women at Friedman and other DFK firms—and to me personally, as a mentee within it (special shout out to my talented mentor Adam Cramer, CEO and partner at Wilson Wright). It’s provided me with a fresh perspective and a new level of support.
How do Friedman’s diversity and inclusion initiatives affect the firm’s culture?
I think what makes Friedman inclusive is that management has many employee-led initiatives (like the perks committee, Friedman Gives Back, Go Green committee, etc.) and is always listening to feedback (we had an alternative work arrangement option and working from home options before they were trendy). You can be as involved as you want to be at Friedman and help to shape its culture and practices. I think that the WDN and the female leaders at Friedman have played a large role in paving the way for the next generation. We also have a D&I committee, which has helped to create trainings, challenge the status quo, create collaboration with clients and nonprofits, etc. The firm has demonstrated a commitment to diversifying its hiring practices to get candidates from all backgrounds and ensure diversity of thought.
Do you have any recommendations for undergraduate students (especially young women) looking to work in accounting?
Something I think I didn’t realize when I was first interviewing was that while there are some standards that should be met (have a one-page resume, send a thank-you email afterwards, dress professionally, asks questions, etc.), many interviewers’ criteria includes the overall impression you make, whether you seem excited about the firm, if you have a positive attitude or willingness to learn new skills, are well-spoken, seem capable of talking professionally with clients, etc. So much of what we do day to day can be taught, but the right attitude is often not.
I would add that you don’t need to have an internship at a firm to get a full-time offer—although it doesn’t hurt. It was a strong suggestion in my college to have an internship. I started my internship in sophomore year and felt like it gave me a leg up on my resume, money in my pocket, and a better sense of what my day might look like in the future.
Is there anything else important to mention about Friedman or the WDN that we didn’t ask?
As a woman working in public accounting, I like the fact that Friedman has a female co-managing partner, many strong women role models, many benefits that make it clear we care about our people, and many initiatives like the WDN. And in the WDN, we don’t just learn about subjects like business development and time management but also have topics that help women from a personal standpoint—like our course on financial management or a session in October on breast cancer awareness. We also find it enriching to pair our events with a charitable component (like with Kiva for International Women’s Day) or something lighter (like a trivia night).
This post was sponsored by Friedman LLP.