I grew up in a pretty unconventional household for the ‘70’s in that both of my parents worked full-time, each had college degrees and separate bank accounts, my father cooked most meals, and eventually my mom’s salary outpaced my father’s. My father was a CPA and loved tax. But in retrospect, my mother had a lot of influence on who I am today with her drive, independence and strong sense of dignity.
That drive and confidence definitely influenced my early goals to be a partner in a Big 4 accounting firm. However, as a new tax staff consultant at a large global accounting firm, I quickly learned that simply being smart was not enough. It also required something that they didn’t teach you in Intermediate Accounting, FBLA or Beta Alpha Psi. Work was not divided up evenly amongst staff nor was it always given to the person most fit for the project. It wasn’t just whether you were smart and talented but there was something more that seemed to be required.
I was laid off from my first Big 4 public accounting job, although I did spend 7 years with Big 4 firms. Throughout my journey in accounting, I learned quite a bit along the way in particular as a professional woman in the industry. Here are few tips for young women professionals maneuvering the public accounting highway whether you aspire for partnership status or not.
The Obvious – Work hard, produce good work deliverables & connect with your managers and clients. But also:
- Take initiative – Be as aggressive as our male counterparts in seeking out challenging projects and asking for work. Ask seniors, managers or project leads if they need assistance during downtimes or as your project nears an end. Get to know as many of your colleagues and managers as possible. Keep your options open and try different clients, industries and specialties whenever possible.
- Find a Sponsor – Find someone you like working with who appreciates your work and who will have your back. Actually, find more than one because if that person leaves, you need to have someone vouch for your work, commitment to the firm, and dedication to great client service. It’s especially important during review time: if no one knows who you are and what you do, when the RIF (reduction in force) comes you will likely be on the list. And believe me the RIF’s come all too often.
- Show-up – Firm Sponsored Activities – Even if you’ve had a long tiresome day, week or busy season, show up at firm events like happy hours, golf tournaments and charity events. No, you don’t need to be at each and every event, but schedule those you can around other commitments and family obligations. Also, don’t just be physically present but get to know your colleagues at all levels. Relationships build, grow and solidify at these events. Side Bar: Golf is a frequent activity in our industry so consider lessons and learn the game. It’s not important to be a golf pro by any means, but knowing the basics goes a long way with connecting with managers and clients.
- When One Door Closes, YOU Open Another – When I was laid off from my first public accounting job, I called the partner who gave me the “bad” news and asked for a recommendation for an opening at another firm office. Two weeks later, I had a new the job with the same firm that had just laid me off. As a new manager, my “Sponsor” moved to another group, and a second “Sponsor” decided to retire. I evaluated my options and took advantage of an opportunity. I started my own company and provided services to a spin-off practice of the firm. . Risky? Yes. Paid-off at the end? Yes.
Moral of the story: Don’t just lean in or knock on the door, turn the handle and walk thru it. Don’t get me wrong, do I think there’s still a gender gap in public accounting industry? Yes, more so than I would have expected 15 years after I started my career. No way should we represent more than 50% of new hires, but only 20% in the partner ranks. But I hope the younger generation of women accountants can use these tips that I wish I’d known starting off…and Kick that Door Wide Open!