Partnership on Your Terms

by Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA | Apr 25, 2017
Pennsylvania CPA Journal
Rumor has it that the best accounting career path follows a rocket’s trajectory. Students are taught to drive forcefully toward the pinnacle of accounting achievement, pedal to the metal, ignoring rest stops, scenic views, and hitchhikers. When that illustrious partnership offer comes, what if your skills are ready but you aren’t? In some work environments, publicly acknowledging “other priorities” might get you chased by an angry mob of pitchfork-wielding colleagues. Still, when considering a leadership position, “other priorities” are vital factors.

While your technical skills might have people thinking you’re Rain Man, you just may not see yourself as a rainmaker. Sales goals may suddenly be a relevant contingency, and you may be concerned with losing your quality of life. The manner in which a firm’s current partners present their lives as partners speaks volumes in determining whether or not staff will be interested in approaching that endeavor. A staff member with little knowledge of the detailed benefits of partnership is not likely to be seduced by the daily ghost wanderings of tired, grumbling superiors. Certainly the world has its share of footloose and fancy-free accounting partners, but will you be one of them? If you happen to like your current job, will a new position force you into a realm of less gratifying responsibilities?

The three P’s of partnership (pension, power, and prestige) can be enough to sway some of the most satisfied senior managers. Yet it’s equally fathomable that someone might dismiss the three P’s for the three F’s (family, friendship, and free time). As women constitute less than a quarter of accounting partners nationwide, it’s important for capable women to continue to narrow the gender gap in leadership positions. The responsibility for social equality, however, is not squarely on one woman’s shoulders.

If you already realize that becoming a partner is not a current goal on your list, keep communication open with whomever is in charge of your career assessment. If you show no interest in a partnership career track, it’s less likely such a position will be offered to you. If it does, consider ways to respectfully defer the opportunity in a way that keeps you eligible for consideration down the road, at a time when you could be interested. Communication also allows you to present yourself as a champion of the firm’s growth to those who need to see it. Despite current reservations about your own partnership, your public support of the firm’s endeavors could position you to negotiate for benefits that are not traditionally available to employees at your level.

If you’re comfortable doing so, provide your reasoning for not wanting to transition at this time. This will show that you made a thoughtful decision after considering the pros and cons of the alternatives. Be firm, but clear with your reservations. Distinguish your feelings regarding the opportunity from your opinion of the firm and your current position. In the spirit of maintaining relationships and preserving opportunities for future evaluation, you don’t want anyone leaving the interaction feeling like they’re on the receiving end of a breakup. If it’s clear that you love your job, but current circumstances don’t allow for a move at this time, revisiting the issue later may not be as difficult.

Whether or not to defer an achievement is a consideration that affects many multitasking women. Anyone with a dynamic life will have to gauge opportunity cost when evaluating short-term goals. These muddy waters are navigated best with the guidance of coaches and career captains. A coach within your firm and an external mentor would represent an ideal balance of exposure and interests. Proper career planning can help to position you so that internal offers are made at the right time. Taking on a position you aren’t ready for can result in disappointment for all parties involved.

Difficult career decisions affect both men and women. With female leadership numbers in the accounting industry lagging dramatically behind those of their male counterparts, a woman may feel obligated to quickly seize an opportunity to join the upper ranks if the option is available. It’s important to remember that no one woman single-handedly shapes national statistics. While blazing trails is commendable, the only track to true fulfillment is to stay on the path that makes you the happiest.

Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, is a senior accountant with Wipfli LLP in Media and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. She can be reached at
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