Podcast Episode 31: Overcoming Barriers and Having it All
Can women truly have it all? What does having it all actually mean? Jennifer George, a partner in our Professional Standards Group, shares with us her perspective as she reflects on her career, her family and life as a working mom.
Episode 31 Transcript:
AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear from our team members about the things that matter the most to them: flexibility, careers, and people. We’re celebrating Women’s History Month and DHG’s focus on inclusion and diversity.
According to the AICPA, women make up 50% of accounting graduates entering the profession for the last 20 years, but here are the facts: they only make up about 19% of partners. Bringing awareness to this issue, understanding work styles and unconscious bias and building an inclusive culture for everyone is a top priority for DHG. So much so that we have a Women Forward Program which supports our people strategy and fosters learning and leadership among women and men.
Today Jennifer George, a partner in our Professional Standards Group, joins us. She has a demanding career and a very busy life outside of work with two young boys, and she manages it all beautifully. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I thought it would be interesting to sit down and talk with one of our female leaders about barriers to success and what she’s done to move past those barriers.
JG: Thank you.
AGH: Okay, so you have a really interesting job as a member of our Professional Standards Group. Tell us about what it is that you do at DHG and what attracted you?
JG: What attracted me to DHG was really the people, I knew several of the people here that I had worked with on different committees, through the AICPA. I was familiar with the people here and ultimately it was the culture that attracted me. When I was looking to make a change, I looked at the culture and also the firm’s reputation within the industry. You know, coming in, signing on as a partner, you’re taking on a certain amount of liability.
JG: You want to look and understand that the firm has a great reputation in the profession, which ours does. I remember when I was interviewing, I had the opportunity to interview with both Matt Snow and Ken Hughes. Just talking to them, you could get a sense of the culture here because that’s really where it comes from. I’ve been here for a little over a year now and I’ve just been thrilled, so happy to be here.
AGH: That’s awesome. Professional Standards Group, for those listening who have no clue what that is, tell us what you do as part of that group?
JG: Up in that ivory tower? That group that sits up there, “What do you all do?” I work in a Professional Standards Group and my focus in the Professional Standards Group is mainly on public companies- any company that files with Securities and Exchange Commission. I work mostly with filing and reporting requirements, issues if any of our clients have to deal with the SEC, go to them with an independence consultation, get a comment letter or an enforcement letter, I deal with those types of things.
I also focus on broker dealers, because we do have a small broker dealer practice and I’m starting to dabble a little bit in the private equity world as far as it deals with the SEC regulations and independence rules and that sort of thing.
That mirrors communications for papers, dealing with our regulators since we do audit public companies, kind of the spectrum. I grew up on the audit side working on large public banks, financial services company.
AGH: So I think one of the interesting things about that is that you can’t really predict your schedule or what’s going to come when.
JG: Oh no. We all laugh because I have my list of tasks that I have for the day – I always plan but then you also have to realize your phone could ring, and you pick it up and it’s somebody who has got an urgent issue, clients received a letter from the SEC, is freaking out, doesn’t know how to respond or how to deal with that and so you know, the next thing I know, I’m on the phone call with a client for two hours talking through the letter with them, trying to give them some background of how it’s going to work or what they’re asking, you know? Yeah, you know what you want to get done that day, it’s not always what happens.
AGH: One of the barriers to the advancement of women in the profession is the lack of visible role models. I personally, at DHG, think we have a large number of really amazing women leaders who are role models. The AICPA says that women hold only 19% of partner positions, as I mentioned. How have you overcome this barrier and what are you doing to remove barriers for future generations?
JG: That’s a really big issue I feel like, for our folks and for our young women. Not everyone has access to a role model like that. I know coming up in my career, that was a big thing – 1.finding a role model but 2. finding one that emulates what you want. I had a woman partner that I worked for and she was amazing. Amazing to work for, I loved her but she wasn’t married, she didn’t have kids and those were things that I wanted so it was really hard to look at her and say…
AGH: Your life was going to emulate hers.
JG: I was like, that’s not exactly what I want. I do think that it’s difficult to find someone who models what you want in life. I was trying to look back and think about, I mean, there are women out there who are not necessarily women you work for. I think you just have to look at them and know, you can have it all, you can. It’s not going to look perfect, it’s not going to look pretty, but you can.
Then you have to decide, what is it that you want? I think you have to remember that ultimately, at the end of the day, you’re responsible for your career and so good or bad, you can look at it either way. Without role models you can do your own thing. What do you want to do? Go after it and have a voice for yourself and know what you want to do.
I try to be visible to others and make myself available. Two, people because — when I’m asked that question, “Can you have it all and how do you do it?” I think that answer changes.
AGH: It’s such a loaded question. What is “all”? I’m always like, “What do you mean by all?
JG: That’s the thing; what do you want? Go after it, ask for it and I think that was a lot of my career success. I didn’t have anybody ahead of me. When I think of the people who did help me, they were mostly men. Some of the things that I wanted to do, I finally had to just say, “I want to do that, how can I do that? Tell me how to get there, because I want to be part of that or I want to do that or I want to have that opportunity.”
I think we sometimes, as women, have a hard time voicing that. We wait for somebody to recognize us or pick us and that’s just not always going to happen even if you’re perfectly qualified and would be a great person for it. You just have to raise your hand and say, “Listen, I want to do that too.”
AGH: Absolutely, it’s interesting that you say that. I sat down with Gary Thomson, one of our leaders who I used to work directly for and he asked me, “Where do you want to be; what do you want to do?” When I told him he responded, “Really? I’m shocked, I had no idea. What I thought you wanted to do was X and you’re telling me Y.” I think that you raise such a great point about the importance of speaking up and sharing your career goals. Because if you don’t, you’re leaving it up to chance. Yeah, great point there.
Another barrier is the tremendous amount of demands in the profession. You just talked about your schedule and how your day can get completely derailed. You’re a mom, you’re a wife, you’re a leader at DHG. So, how do you get it all done? What are some of the ways that you’re able to manage career demands with family responsibilities?
JG: Challenging. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing on all fronts. I treat work and my home life very similarly and I recognized that once I had kids and a husband and a household. Like everybody says, you’re the CEO of the house. People laugh.
AGH: Somebody’s got to do it, right?
JG: That’s right. From a home life perspective, I do very much like we do here. We have family meetings where we sit down and talk about what we have going on for the week. I am type A and I’m an accountant so I have an Excel spreadsheet that I put together for our family. We have a weekly Excel spreadsheet and it has everything on it that everybody’s got going on.
My husband works as well so I mean, we both have to figure out what do we have going on for work, are either one of us traveling, what are the boy’s activities? Both boys have two different sporting activities plus School of Rock and everything else that they’ve got to be at so we have that schedule and we try to sit down on Sundays and say okay, family meeting, what do we have going on this week? What’s on the schedule? Everything has to be on the schedule, you can’t say you didn’t know because it was on the schedule.
Then you look at your list of to do’s, just like you do here and say, “Okay, what’s the best use of my time? What do I have to do, what can I delegate?” Whether it’s to my husband or the kids to say, “You guys need to do this or can you take care of this?” I treat my husband like I would treat a manager here. I’m like, “Okay, you own this- our boys’ sports, you are the sports dad, you love sports, it’s all on you.” So making sure the boys know when their games are, when their practices are, that they’ve got the right shoes, if they need new socks. That’s my husband’s responsibility. I don’t leave it on my calendar to go back to them and say, “Did you do this?” Because then it’s not really off my plate. It’s still on my to-do list.
AGH: Right, exactly.
JG: And I decided, you know what? If the boys don’t have the right socks when we get to the soccer game, you know what? Nobody’s going to die over it. It’s not that big a deal and so I think doing that whole delegating, family meetings, the schedule and then the other thing is to ask for help when you need it. If you need time to do something and that works both ways, if I’m busy with work and sometimes get overwhelmed with everything that I have going on, I sit down and I just say, “You guys, I have a lot going on at work, I really need to get caught up and on Tuesday night I’m going to work late” and they have a boys night!
AGH: They order pizza and have a great time.
JG: Yeah, they know not to call me and ask me, “When are you going to be home? When are you going to be home?”
AGH: That’s terrific.
JG: And I can just stay here and stay late and I don’t feel guilty because we’ve already scheduled it. We’ve talked about it and nobody is bothering me. So those are just little things to do and hiring a cleaning lady. I’ve had a cleaning lady forever even before I could really afford it but that was one of those things that I said, “You know what? For my personal sanity and to be able to spend time with my kids, we’re just going to budget for it.”
I don’t want to spend my Saturday mornings cleaning our house. I want to hang out with my kids. I’m at work during the week, that’s my priority and I think sometimes you have to make some of those decisions of what can I delegate and what can I hire out? Earlier in my career we had to really budget – but this was a priority.
AGH: You are right. You have to decide what it is worth for your sanity and to be able to be with your family. You mentioned, I’m going off script. I said I wasn’t going to, but I’m going to. You mentioned guilt and that is something that a lot of females feel —not just in accounting profession. So being a mom is fairly new to me but I’ve had to learn to manage and realize that sometimes that guilt is totally unfounded. I shouldn’t feel guilty because my child is actually having more fun without me. She’s with her grandparents and they’re doing exciting things like going to get ice cream.
JG: That’s a fun advantage and she likes it, they like it too – so yeah.
AGH: And the other thing is, when I come back from working long hours or being way, I feel good about the work I’ve accomplished and I’m able to really focus on her. But seriously- that guilt thing is hard.
JG: It is, it is one of those things that even now, I’ve been doing this for 20 years working in the profession it still sneaks in. If you’re at work and you feel guilty for not being at home or you go home early for the kids and you feel guilty because you’re not at work.
AGH: You have to get that rational side of your brain and be like, “Listen, stop that!” So I have one final question, what do you think is one thing we can do to break down some of the barriers of success for women in the profession, what’s one thing?
JG: Oh my gosh, that is a great question and I have been thinking about that because I feel like there’s so many things that you can do. But when I try to think back over where I think we’ve made some progress and I think it is education. It’s making people aware of the issue. That’s crazy that we have women coming in at 50% of staff but we’ve only got 19% partners and I’ve realized that this profession isn’t for everybody.
And you’re going to have some people there who are like, “I just don’t want to do that, that’s not what I want.” But I still think there’s a lot who want to continue in the profession but are not sure that they can and I want them to know they can.
You can do it, you can have it all, whatever that is that you want don’t feel like you have to sacrifice or settle or compromise. So I think a part of that is the education of both women and men – raising awareness about unconscious bias
AGH: Yes- very important.
JG: It is. People don’t even realize they’re doing it or excluding or not giving women the same opportunities or just the way they think about it, “Oh so and so has a baby, she probably just wants to go home and take care of her baby.” Well she probably does but she also wants that opportunity to work on that project.
AGH: Or maybe she wants to work on the project so she doesn’t have to go home. Just kidding.
JG: It’s true, my girlfriends say, “How do you travel so much?” I’m like, “Because sometimes it feels like a vacation” but just making sure everybody is educated. I think knowledge is power and you’ve got to share that knowledge with others and hold your colleagues accountable. When you see it happening, call it out or say, “Hey!”
I remember being so aware of being the only woman in a room. I walk into a meeting and there’d be 20 of us around the conference table and I would think, “Oh my, I’m the only woman.” I’ve worked through that but now I’m very conscious of other things. So, for example, last year I had the opportunity to participate in our Leadership Academy, which was an amazing program. Now I ask questions about the class make-up, “How many women do we have and how many men and how does that relate to our groups and staff? Or do we have these opportunities?”
When people come in with teams that we’re working with. Understanding that there are other women, just being conscious of it and bringing those thoughts up to people and calling your partners out, your fellow colleagues, when you see that or recognize something, I think that’s another big responsibility. I think along those lines, I’ve tried to be a role model regarding transparency about what you’re doing and how you’re handling things.
I still remember as a manager when I was a new mom, if I had to leave early to go to a doctor’s appointment…
AGH: You would sneak out?
JG: I would. I would sneak out or act like I was going to a meeting or whatever, because I just didn’t want that stigma. But then as I moved up and I would have conversations with people, I realized they didn’t know that I was going to a soccer game or to a doctor’s appointment with my child or whatever and I was reflected, “I’m doing everybody a disservice by acting this way.” So now if I am leaving, I walk out the front door and don’t mind sharing where I am going. “I’m going. I’ve got a basketball game for Jack tonight.” Or, “I’ve got to go home, I’ve been travelling for the past week I’m going home a little earlier tonight to have dinner with my family.” It’s important to speak up and let people see that because I think that’s one of the great things about our jobs and working here is that you do have that flexibility. I talked about having a great support system at home and having somebody that you could work with, but it’s just as important at work to have your colleagues like, “Yeah, go home. You’re right, you’ve been gone a week,” you know? Don’t worry about it.
AGH: Yeah, I love that transparency aspect that you mention. Going back to that guilt issue we discussed, many may think “I’m feeling a little guilty, so I’m just going to sneak out.” But we do have flexibility. We’re here for DHG when DHG needs us and DHG is there for us when we need to be with our family or somewhere besides work, and I think that’s really important.
JG: It is, that flexibility really goes two ways when there’s things that we have to get done and I need to be here or be out of town, you know what? That’s fine because then on the other side of the table if I have something that I need to deal with, with my family or the house or whatever it may be, you’ve got that flexibility and I think that’s really important here. But I think that’s the transparency sneaking out. If your people see you sending emails at 11:00 at night, I’ve seen both sides of that.
I have people say, “Oh you shouldn’t send emails out at 11:00 at night. That looks bad, it’s like you’re working 24/7,” and I’m like, “Well no I’m not. It’s because I have to leave at 4:30 for a doctor’s appointment for my son, but I had things that I had to deal with.”
So that’s just the other side of it. I went to the doctor’s appointment, I had dinner with my family, I put the boys to bed and then guess what? I had things to do so I got back on my computer for a couple of hours and that’s when I just happen to do it. It’s not that I’ve been working 24 hours today, it’s just that’s when I’m fitting my time in and that’s the other great thing is that flexibility to work when you can, too.
AGH: Yeah, the beauty of today’s is technology.
JG: It really is.
AGH: Beauty and curse. Well this has been so fun. I’m sure we could carry on forever talking about this but maybe people don’t want to listen to us forever because they want the flexibility to do other things! Thank you for being with us.
JG: Absolutely. I’m so happy to do it.
AGH: And thank you all for listening to Life at DHG and joining us in our celebration of Women’s History Month. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers.
Join us next time for another episode of Life at DHG.
Jennifer is a partner in DHG’s headquarters office in Charlotte, NC. She works in the Professional Standards Group and has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys traveling, reading, yoga, and mostly, spending time with her two boys and husband and their golden doodle.