Women at BDO: A Roundtable Discussion
At BDO, we’re committed to supporting our professional women and driving their success. From first-year associates to partners, we help women build relationships and create well-defined career paths through networking events, coaching, and sponsorship opportunities.
To give you an inside look into what it’s like to be a woman in accounting – and at BDO – we conducted a roundtable discussion, featuring four of our most talented professionals. During the hour-long conversation, they discussed public accounting and their experiences as women in business, from mentorship, gender-related roadblocks they’ve overcome, to the importance of diversity in leadership.
THANKS FOR PARTICIPATING IN THIS CONVERSATION. LET’S START OFF WITH A FUN QUESTION. WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR POSITION?
My favorite thing about what I do now is career advising and mentoring; helping people reach their full potential. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned recently is that people do leave for other opportunities, but I’m also starting to see it as an opportunity to build our network!
I love working with the clients and acting as a business advisor to them. A lot of times “auditor” has a negative connotation, but luckily a lot of our clients don’t see it that way and they look to us for valuable recommendations. I genuinely enjoy building that relationship with clients, which you can see grow every year we work with them.
For me, the most rewarding part of my career is helping other women move forward – specifically, with our local Women’s Inclusion program. We do a lot of events and I’ve really enjoyed brainstorming and trying to pinpoint opportunities for younger women to get involved, take a leadership role, and be able to make a difference. It helps them feel more involved in their career and in the firm. That’s a lot of fun for me.
These days I welcome mentoring other women. I get excited watching people move up the firm. That’s probably the best part of my day; when they pull me aside and ask for help furthering their careers.
DID ANYONE MENTOR YOU AS A PROFESSIONAL, EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?
My first mentor was a tax partner, who is an amazing tax person and professional in general. She made me strive to be better; good wasn’t enough, she wanted excellence. When you got a “Good job” from Joyce, it made you proud. She showed me early on that women could succeed.
My mentor throughout my years here at BDO was my career advisor, a first year manager. He was always championing me and challenging me to take on more complex tasks, instead of giving me the easy way out or all the answers.
My mentor was a tax partner who took me under his wing. At that point I was in assurance, and I had people teaching me the technical stuff, but Brian was constantly my champion. Anytime there was an opportunity, both within and outside the firm, he let me know. He even helped me get on some boards. He just really took the time and went out of his way to customize his approach for each person and figure out how to help them reach their goals. It’s so special that he took the time for so many people to do this, and it really did change my career and put me on the right trajectory. He’s always been there and helped guide me, and that was pivotal in me moving forward in my career.
WHAT PIECE OF GO-TO ADVICE DO YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO IS LOOKING TO START A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?
The biggest thing I think is to concentrate on strengthening your verbal communication skills. I keep telling folks to put down their phone and shut off their computer. Having a conversation and connecting to people will be much more rewarding. That has kind of gone by the wayside as technology becomes more prevalent in our day-to-day technical jobs. People have lost the ability to communicate, but making sure you talk to everyone and build those connections is what will advance your career.
I agree 100% with Nicole. One thing we are really starting to tell people is that although technical skills are very important, so is communication. As technology continues to change, some of the technical tasks are going to become automated. It’s really a people business. Network with people and develop relationships! Your job isn’t just at your desk anymore.
I would also like to add, to women specifically, that confidence comes with experience and how much you know. If you’re confident in your knowledge, you can build from that to start connecting with people. That confidence comes naturally as the years progress. Working on that is key.
My biggest piece of advice is to be flexible. There are times that we need to work late and sometimes, we don’t spend as much time as we’d like with friends and family. But on the flip side, make sure to set expectations and boundaries early. It’s easy to fall into the track of “I’m so motivated, I’m so determined, I just want to work work work”… but then you end up working 80 hours a week. And by the time you’re ready to pull back, you’ve now set the expectation that you work 80 hours a week. Setting boundaries, having that communication, and being flexible with the firm is really important, as is the firm being flexible with you. Open communication is really important.
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE MADE SACRIFICES PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY? HOW DO YOU FIND A WORK+LIFE FIT™?
I’m still trying to find that fit; some days it works really well and some days it doesn’t. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to say “I’m trying to be flexible because I have my kid’s basketball game.” BDO allows flexibility and encourages people to take it. As long as you let people know you’re not available and offer up an alternative time, people will respect it.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT FEMALE LEADERSHIP (OR MORE DIVERSE LEADERSHIP) IS IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF THE FIRM?
Diverse leadership gives you different ideas. A diverse crowd thinks differently. There are different personalities that think differently, men and women think differently, and we need diversity as a firm. Otherwise, we’re not receptive to outside ideas and getting to the next level. As the world changes, we have to have that. Everybody brings something to the table, and with a diverse group hopefully people are listening.
HAVE YOU EVER FELT LIKE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME ANY GENDER-RELATED ROAD BLOCKS IN YOUR CAREER (BIG OR SMALL)?
Yes! I was once invited by a banker to meet with one of his clients at a happy hour. We met his client at a restaurant and it seemed awkward… almost like a date. At one point the guy asked me, “Are you single? Do you have a boyfriend? Would you want to go on a date sometime?” It was baffling, awkward, and uncomfortable. Moving forward, I think being clear with my intentions of why we are meeting and what I am trying to accomplish, is helpful. It’s important to have a social bond with business colleagues, but at the end of the day, it is strictly that – business. It takes time to figure out how to communicate efficiently that men need to respect us as a professional women and maintain professionalism themselves.
I have a pretty awkward story, too. While I was a manager, I was with a partner and a client. The client was writing a check for a large number. He had a checkbook, looked at me, and pushed me the checkbook to write the check. I’m a CPA… I was a manager at the time and I was just at a loss for words. I mean, what do you do? I had to write the check, right? He pushed it to me to write it! It was baffling to me. This doesn’t really happen anymore, but there are still times when women are looked at as the secretary.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE THOSE TYPES OF SITUATIONS?
Prevention is the key. Making sure intentions are very clear from the beginning. Standing up for yourself in a polite and respectful way, and making sure you’re not a push over. Preventing it up front is most helpful to me rather than waiting. Speak up, be honest, and be respectful.
In my situation, it was the client. I felt like I had to do it. But now, I would probably handle it a little differently. I would ask the partner to have a conversation with the client, let him know that if you need someone to write a check we can have that done, we have administrative support for that. It’s tough when it’s the client, though, because it’s a delicate situation.
AS THE INDUSTRY BECOMES LESS MALE DOMINATED, DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT WILL BECOME LESS OF AN ISSUE? IS THERE PROGRESS?
I do feel like there is progress overall. The way of thinking for the millennial generation is that there’s more open mindedness about different situations. The hardest thing about public accounting is that we do have a lot of partners and men with tenure that are used to being traditional in a specific kind of way. It may depend, but I would say our leadership and incoming associates are very open-minded. BDO is ahead of the curve on this, but there is always room for improvement. There is a bright light moving forward.
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