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Shutterstock_1121928752For many professionals, it’s a challenge to maintain work and life balance, but one trailblazing CPA was able to break the mold. By creating opportunities for herself, she opened new paths for other professionals, especially women, to follow.

When Katy Hollister, CPA, chief strategy officer for Deloitte’s Global Tax and Legal practice, approached what might have been an immovable barrier at work, she was able to change the course of her career —and key policies of her organization, too.

It’s a story from many years ago with a timeless lesson. In 1990, Hollister was a manager at Deloitte Tax, LLP for about six years and was pregnant with her first child. She was concerned about balancing parenthood and her existing responsibilities. At that time, the firm, like much of the profession and the business world, had no women’s initiatives or formal programs for working mothers. When Hollister asked her office’s managing partner about a part-time schedule once her child was born, he pointed out that the firm didn’t have part-time options. “I said, ‘How about if we try it?’”

Hollister then wrote a proposal outlining the arrangement and addressing potential firm concerns. And it worked. She offers four pieces of advice to those also looking to overcome hurdles at work:

  1. Never miss a chance to take a risk on something important.

“If you’re told, ‘We don’t do that here,’ ask: ‘Could we try?’” Hollister recommends. Firms are well advised to appreciate the value of staff asking, “Why not?” since it can help retain promising people and drive innovation. Those two simple words opened the door to new possibilities and solutions.

  1. What sets you apart may be your biggest

In her case, Hollister’s unusual proposal quickly raised her visibility in the firm — she found herself being flown from her home in Cincinnati to firm headquarters in Connecticut to hammer out details of what would be her part-time schedule. Among other things, they addressed issues, like how she would respond to client emergencies and called for evaluating the arrangement’s success at various milestones.

The visibility continued. Late in 1992, after Hollister was back to a full-time schedule, she received a call from the Deloitte CEO’s office asking her to participate in a study of women’s concerns. Hollister found herself at the forefront of change at Deloitte.

  1. If it hasn’t been done, do it yourself.

By 1994, Deloitte, which has since been named to Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list for 23 years, had a women’s initiative up and running, and Hollister was one of many involved. That same year, Hollister, who was pregnant with her second child, asked her sponsor whether she could advance to the partnership on a part-time schedule. He assured her that being temporarily part-time wouldn’t be a negative factor when being considered for admission into the partnership, demonstrating just how much had changed since her request for part-time status four short years earlier. She ultimately became the first person to become a partner while on a part-time schedule. This demonstrated the importance of creating — and continuing to follow — your path if the right one for you doesn’t already exist.

  1. Stick to the schedule.

Some of the challenges professionals on alternative schedules face may be creating boundaries and managing flexibility. Hollister was so anxious to make the arrangement work that she sometimes spent far more time on business than her part-time schedule called for. “I was constantly thinking about work because I wanted to be sure the arrangement was beneficial to the organization.” All schedules — both alternate and traditional — involve ebbs and flows, but establishing appropriate boundaries to balance multiple priorities, while difficult, is key. Also, it’s important to periodically reassess the arrangement to see if it’s meeting the objectives of both parties

Hollister’s experience taught her the importance of asking why not, even if what you’re seeking may set you apart. Never underestimate the value of stepping outside your comfort zone and questioning processes to make change a reality.

The AICPA Women’s Global Leadership Summit, Nov. 6-8 in San Diego, is an opportunity to reexamine your goals and ambitions going forward. At the summit, you’ll experience the support of female colleagues and male advocates from across the country and be able to attend interactive workshops designed to support you as you grow in both your professional and personal life. Also, check out this resource page dedicated to helping women continue to flourish in the profession.

Also, the AICPA’s Online Mentoring Program provides yet another platform for professionals to learn from each other. The program is a way for mentees to understand how experienced colleagues have conquered their own challenges and paved roads to success. Not only do mentees grow professionally, but mentors also say they learn a great deal from their relationship with promising mentees. The next time you face a roadblock, find out how a mentor can help you.

Yasmine El-Ramly, CPA/CITP, CGMA, Senior Technical Manager – Diversity & Inclusion, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Originally published by AICPA.org