By Linda M. Ryan, CAE, PICPA member relations manager
This past August, the Greater Philadelphia Women of the PICPA Committee hosted a Path to Partner panel at the offices of EisnerAmper. The group enjoyed the fantastic view from high above Logan Circle – the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Swann Fountain – and then settled in to listen to the views of successful women in accounting.
The panel included CPAs Lori Reiner, partner in charge at EisnerAmper’s Philadelphia office; Roz Sutch, shareholder at Drucker & Scaccetti in Philadelphia; and Colleen Cooke-Varallo, partner at Wipfli LLC in Media, Pa.
Moderator Joanne Szupka of BDO USA challenged the panel with questions about their background and professional journey, the role mentors played in helping them along the way, and whether they feel like they’ve achieved success. The result was a lively discussion, personal reveals, and solid advice.
Use the skills you learned at home.
Colleen and Roz both talked about coming from large families, which helped them develop skills that they would use later. Colleen attributes some of her success in a traditionally male-dominated profession to having grown up with five brothers. She learned to fight, be strong, and feel comfortable in a male-dominated environment. Roz described a wide age range among her siblings, which helped her learn how to communicate effectively with people of all ages.
Be brave and ask for what you need.
When Colleen was raising her kids, she became the first woman at her firm to ask for a part-time schedule. It took her longer to advance in her career, but she figured out how to make it work, including crafting the position of part-time partner. With her firm’s support, she came up with a schedule that supported her needs at home and at work.
Build your skill set through volunteering.
Early in her career, Lori took the advice of a supervisor who suggested that she volunteer outside of the office. She was surprised to discover that her volunteer activities enabled her to develop non accounting skills that would help her stand out. She specifically referenced fund-raising as the perfect way to hone your sales skills. Lori also noticed that as she was developing these skills, her colleagues were not - or at least not as quickly. Lori quickly came to realize that volunteering provided the dual benefits of helping the community while also building the leadership skills you need.
Get a mentor and be a mentor.
All three panelists described having had at least one mentor, and are now mentoring other professionals or students. All have found their mentoring relationships to be critical to their professional development and career advancement.
As the discussion came to a close, the panelists were asked to name the biggest issue facing women in the workplace. Colleen and Roz agreed that gender equality, including equal pay, is the single greatest challenge facing women today. Lori noted that finding the firm culture that best matches your style and needs will help limit challenges. She referred to finding the right firm as finding your “home.”
Find your path to partner by being brave, volunteering, mentoring, and finding your “home” – hopefully one with a view.