Every senior woman in accounting has been asked how she did it. How did she manage work and family? How did she crack the code of business development? How did she speak up when she felt she was being overlooked?
With women comprising only 20% of partners at public accounting firms, according to the 2014 Accounting MOVE Project report, the personal history of each senior woman resonates more powerfully than the individual stories of male leaders. Men’s experience is helpful, but only to the degree that women can translate the context of male success to their own situations. Women crave insight and empathy from other women.
Your personal career history – your story – becomes part of the history of your firm and of the women you mentor, sponsor, guide and inspire.
Your history is more than your resume with some verbs thrown in. Here are three ways to build a lasting impression with a few short, energetic stories about career pivot points.
Give them what they want, not what they ask for. Listening between the lines is essential for good client service. Do the same when choosing a couple of stories that address often-asked questions.
At nearly every women’s conference (across all kinds of industries) that I’ve attended, a young woman from the audience has asked a high-powered woman presenter not about career strategy, but a nuts-and-bolts question about how she managed family and work. Until a couple of conferences ago, this annoyed me. Why ask an industry leader about how she handled carpool, diapers and tax season? Then I realized: these young women are not after parenting advice. They crave reassurance from someone who’s now past the parenting-young-children-stage: are you at peace with your decisions? Did it turn out ok, now that you are looking at those years in your rear-view mirror? When you craft a story that addresses deeper issues, you build rapport.
Throw open closed doors. When you become a partner, you suddenly join the club. Until then, you have wondered how decisions are made behind closed doors. To the extent that you can, tell rising women how things work in the meetings they can’t yet attend. Men often get glimpses in casual settings that don’t include women. So call out the impenetrable to those on their way. Explain how decisions are made, what kind of give-and-take happens among partners – and help them envision themselves as part of the story.
Be the heroine. One woman partner recently told me how she braved a skeptical panel of male colleagues when she advocated for her firm’s first-ever women’s initiative. “I told them, what if all the women leave? Who’s left? People who aren’t as bright, and it will take us longer to get the work done and we’ll make less money,” she said.
You can picture the surprise on their faces when she showed up wearing her Superwoman cape. And you won’t be surprised to hear that she walked out with six-figure funding for the initiative.
Take center stage in a few key stories that illustrate pivotal moments in your career. Show yourself in action. Sketch the reaction. And tell what you did to convert that moment to real change. That’s how you convert career history to career legend.
This post was also published on March 12, 2015, by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.