Co-authors: Brianne Cannon, Lauren Haverlock, Mari-Anne Kehler and Anita Wu
At GHJ, we believe every day is a chance to #BeMore. Not do more. Not work more. Instead, we encourage one another to be the best we can be and enjoy life to the fullest. With our commitment to anytime/anywhere work, our support of flexible work environments and our passion for health and wellness, our Firm wants people who live their best lives.
March is Women’s History Month and the perfect time to reflect on why this commitment is important to all our people, but most especially for the advancement our women. Having a rich, full, balanced life allows us to bring our best to our clients, our families and one another. Four of our women leaders share their take, discussing parenting, efficiency, self-care and paying it all forward to future generations.
The Parenting Balancing Act (by Lauren Haverlock)
I had been in the accounting industry for over a decade when I took on a new “entry level position”: motherhood. This new role was surprisingly brutal. I worked around the clock. Sure, there were great perks. I had a strong support group. I got to “dress for my day” and work anywhere, anytime. But the extreme nature of the gig was enough to make me wonder "is it all worth it?" This new job was draining, but so incredibly rewarding…
…and then just as quick as it started, my maternity leave was over. I returned to work a different person, caught between two diametrically opposed worlds. I was changing diapers one minute and digging into the Internal Revenue Code the next. I was determined to prove that having a kid didn't change me or my work habits. And I resolved to not be defined as (gasp!) a working mother. I was certain there would be negative consequences to such label. Maybe I would be scrutinized in a new light and expectations would be lowered and opportunities would be scarcer. Might my commitment to my career be questioned?
In this tough transition period, a supportive work environment can go a long way. New mothers are a vulnerable population for a company. They are besieged with choices, and the opportunity costs of working (or not working) can be overwhelming. Companies are starting to see beyond the legal requirements to make new mothers feel welcome and appreciated – and not all of it has to be financial, like paid leave. What non-financial support might create an important bond between a new mom and her employer?
- Assistance when navigating through the often sticky bureaucratic world of family leave, medical benefits, etc. One wrong response on a form could impact timing and accessibility to benefits.
- Providing space and time for nursing. While there are legal minimums that certain sized companies need to provide to mothers who pump and nurse, the entire process can be a time and energy drain. Providing mothers with creative solutions in how they can more easily access time and space to pump goes a long way.
- Patience with schedules and appearances. Some babies sleep through the night and some wake every few hours. Some follow schedules and some do not. Try as we might, a new mom’s schedule is not often her own. Early mornings, late nights and long blocks of meetings, while manageable, are tough in a first year for moms who nurse, pump or bottle feed. Heck, it is hard for dads, too!
- Flex Schedule and Customized Work Plans. This isn’t about transitioning to a part-time employee, because that can be a financial drain for a new family. This is more about a policy focused less on hours worked and more on productivity. For me, it was important to create, and reassess often, a plan with boundaries on how I could be an impactful employee.
Being a new mom changed me – and for the better. With the responsibility of caring for a new human, there was a greater demand and strain on my time. Without a way to produce more time, the value of my minutes inflated. This was a simple case of supply and demand.
“Quality over quantity” became my mantra. I worked on being more present, both at work and home. I was determined to squeeze every bit of deliciousness out of my moments with my children. I had to establish and respect my own boundaries. I also implemented tactics to be more efficient and impactful while also learning to let things go. The most vital part of this was establishing and maintaining a support system at home and in the office.
Trusting others and investing in foundational relationships gave me the confidence to be present, but more importantly, to be absent.
I managed to find some purpose in the chaos of being a new mom. If I was going to be away from my family, I should feel fulfilled. I found that “having it all” is impossible, but we can have what we want. I try to work on these things every day. It is a terribly messy process, full of trial and error, mistakes and stress. But after all is said and done, it is absolutely worth it.
Since I can remember, I’ve had a full plate of activities. I didn’t want to be defined as one dimensional. I wanted to be “girlie” like a ballerina, strong like an athlete in basketball, smart like those in history club and viewed as fun like those in yearbook club. Like many women, I wanted to be and do it all.
I sustained a hectic, full schedule up through college, then eventually as a part-time graduate student also working a 60-hour week. My addiction to do more eventually turned me into a full-time student and full-time employee at a stressful international bank in New York.
Looking back, I defined myself by my activities. My ability to do it all (and at the same time) made me different. I saw myself as successful, as someone who could do it all! It fueled me to plan more and sleep less.
When I was given an international assignment for two years in London, it was the first time I noticed how fast I was moving. I didn’t have to balance my family or friends and got to focus only on my work and myself. It was the first time I really focused on a few things and felt accomplished while not drained. I also got to fully appreciate things. I knew I wasn’t there long, so I took time to savor the experience.
I’d love to tell you I took this observation and life lesson and applied it consistently. Nope. Once back in NY, I resumed the rat race (even after I moved to laidback Los Angeles).
I didn’t get back to focusing on a few things until two forces collided: working for a public accounting firm, traffic and life’s curveball of my parent’s failing health. Now I can’t physically, emotionally or mentally “do it all,” even with my expert planning skills. It isn’t possible, which I learned the hard way.
But why – after I saw the difference in my life in London – didn’t I slow down and focus on only a few important things? Guilt. Guilt for not doing more, for saying “no,” for not living up to my expectations of myself.
It wasn’t until my choices impacted those I loved that I changed. And the first step was changing my own mindset. I switched from measuring my success by the quantity of things I did to the quality.
Doing less takes discipline and constant reminding that you’re doing enough.
Mantra: Don’t define your worth or success by what you do.
The biggest advantage to doing less: it creates more space to enjoy things that matter most and be present.
I now keep sacred one day a week for a yoga class. I feel more refreshed, focused and centered than when I went five times a week and just went through the motions. Now I push myself harder and remain present, rather than plan dinner in my head.
I feel like I’m better able to find and appreciate simple joys. With packing less into the day, opportunities like a coffee and pastry with my mom after visiting her Parkinson’s doctor are possible. Before, I was too distracted over everyday stresses to slow down and seize the moment.
My new definition of success has helped me to do less and feel more. I still might feel guilty at times, but I feel grateful more – plus sleep is amazing!
Self-Care and the Working Girl (by Mari-Anne Kehler)
We’ve all heard the advice borrowed from flight attendants: “Put your own oxygen mask on first!” We cannot be of use to others, or ourselves, if we aren’t healthy enough to be effective. But putting that into action is one of the most difficult for those who are trying to have it all by doing it all.
I raised a son with a disability into adulthood and typically slept only four hours a night – for 20 years. I got very good at working hard, playing hard and juggling all the balls in the air. But after a health scare, I soon realized I wouldn’t be of much use to anyone for long if I didn’t slow down and put my own wellness first. Practicing self-care is the best preventative medicine there is. And after turning 50, I discovered a few secrets I’ll pass on which are universal truths for all, especially driven professional women:
- Self-care is not selfish; it is the most responsible thing you can do
- Treat yourself the way you would a dear friend, with gentle compassion and care
- Saying “no” to what isn’t a priority is saying “yes” to what is
- Set clear boundaries for yourself, and stick to them
- Set realistic goals for yourself and schedule them
And my favorite truth is from the great writer, Anne Lamott:
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes.
Sponsorship and Paying it Forward (by Anita Wu)
In this client service profession, our “customers” are all around us, and it is just as crucial that we anticipate the needs and exceed the expectations of the people within our organization, as when we present ourselves to the outside world. Looking back at the early stage of my career, two particular situations were instrumental in accelerating my development:
Opportunity – I regularly attended client and settlement meetings. So much of what I know about my job was learned through observation. For the first couple of years, I was happy to play a non-speaking role. However with time, my thoughts started to align with the active dialogue, which built up my confidence and allowed me to find my voice in these meetings.
Empowerment – My supervisors introduced me in these meetings as an integral member of our team, and I performed much of the follow-up work including circle backs with our clients. Not only did this pressure me into strengthening my technical skills and double-checking my workpapers, but also figuring out how to effectively communicate my message to others. As an added benefit, I gradually established my own individual relationships with our clients.
Had my supervisors not afforded me these situations, it is unlikely that I would have had the good sense to seek them for myself, at least not before losing interest in my job. Fortunately, this exposure sparked my passion in seeing what the results of my work could be. Moreover, having well-respected, strong-minded women as my supervisors shaped my ideal of who I could become.
Perhaps the best way I can express my gratitude to the generation before me
is to be as generous to the newer members of our firm.
Sponsorships require trust and accountability by and between the persons involved. Gone are the days of a “one size fits most” career path. Everyone’s definition of success is different, and a sponsor can help those less familiar with an organization to identify and explore the possibilities for career growth and satisfaction. Having a sponsor can help to set a realistic timeline for the achievement of one’s goals. It can also be uplifting simply by having a sponsor who actively listens and offers his or her support and encouragement.
Being a sponsor keeps us engaged and informed and freshens our perspective of this ever-changing world faster and better than if we were to go about it on our own. And women need to have as many sponsored career opportunities as men to ensure the path to leadership is equitable.
At GHJ, we focus as much of our energy toward training and team building as we do to servicing our clients. As both a recipient and outspoken benefactor of sponsorships, my connectivity to our firm is strengthened, and I am continuously inspired to #BeMore to my colleagues, our clients and myself.
About Brianne Cannon (Director of Learning and Development, GHJ)
Brianne leads the Learning and Development Department for GHJ and is known for her ability to increase organizational effectiveness through learning and talent interventions. With a passion for inventing new, better ways of doing things to drive results, Brianne has worn many hats over her decade in HR and has a 360-degree view of complex talent problems. All of the work she does focuses on building strong stakeholder relationships with a pragmatic business-focused approach.
Lauren has over 10 years of experience in public accounting and has focused in the exempt organization area for the last seven years of her career. One of her main areas of focus is in preparing, reviewing and consulting on federal and state returns for public charities, private foundation and other exempt organizations. Her experience in this area varies from large foundations with over $1 billion in assets to smaller charities with complex structures. She is passionate about her community and is currently a board member of the Downtown Long Beach Associates and the Fender Music Foundation. In addition to community involvement, she teaches Form 990 and 990-PF courses for the AICPA and has taught at the CalCPA and other prominent state societies in the past.
About Anita Wu (Principal, GHJ)
Anita joined GHJ in 2000 and has over 17 years of auditing experience within the entertainment industry. Her specialty includes profit participation audits on behalf of talent, investors and co-producers at both the major and mini studios. She currently manages most of the audits at Walt Disney Pictures and Television and NBC Universal. Anita has also performed audits of merchandise licensing royalties and music royalties.