S2:E5 – Conversations that Count: Empowering Women in Business
Season 2

 
 
00:00 /
 
1X

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we are proud to introduce our first “Conversations that Count” episode of It Figures. Join CRI Partner of Human Capital, Sandi Guy, as she facilitates a panel discussion with other women from the firm as they discuss how society has impacted their perceptions of themselves, the challenges and successes they’ve seen in their professional careers, and how at the end of the day the most important thing that women can do for each other is to support one another.


Intro:

From Carr, Riggs & Ingram, this is It Figures: The CRI Podcast, an accounting, advisory and industry focused podcast for business and organization leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone who is looking to go beyond the status quo.

Sandi Guy:

Welcome to another episode of It Figures. My name is Sandi Guy, and I’m a partner with Carr, Riggs & Ingram. And I oversee our human capital strategies. I am thrilled to be here today, as we explore the wide ranging opportunities that women in the US have opened to them today, both from a personal and professional perspective. We’re going to explore that a little bit. We’re going to look at the individuals who have supported them along the way. We’re going to look at any challenges they’ve had along the way, and hopefully show all of our listeners all the different things that they can do to be true to themselves and have the personal and professional lives that they always envisioned. And just really dive in deep into that. But first, I’m so excited to introduce our panel. So first, Kathie can you take a moment and introduce yourself?

Kathie Gottlieb:

Sure. My name’s Kathie Gottlieb. I’m with the Atlanta SPU and I’m a tax partner.

Sandi Guy:

Thank you. And Ms. Fanta?

Fanta Koroma:

My name is Fanta Koroma. I’m in Tallahassee, Florida, and I’m an administrative assistant.

Sandi Guy:

And last, but certainly not least is Grace.

Grace De Leon:

My name is Grace De Leon. I’m a tax manager with the Rio Grande Valley unit in McAllen, Texas.

Sandi Guy:

I’m thrilled to have all three of you here today. And as we are entering women’s history month, it got me looking back over history. And especially since world war one, but women’s professional choices have opened up exponentially as we move, especially now into a gig economy. It’s always exciting whether you’re looking on Facebook or different aspects of social media and you see all these women starting all kinds of different businesses, very creative ones that wish I would have thought of, and it’s allowed for remote work even before the pandemic.

And it just seems that, if you look back over a hundred years or again, especially since world war 1, women are in every field doing everything. So young girls today, they from a career perspective can do whatever they want to do. And from a personal perspective, they can do whatever they want to do. And I think that’s awesome. So today, what we’re going to talk about are some of those paths, what they’ve learned along the way, each of the three of you in the paths that you’ve chosen. But let’s just first start out. If we all back to our younger selves and wonder, we all envisioned gosh, when I’m a grown up and that seems so far away, you envision what you’d be doing as an adult. And I’m curious, if you’re doing what you envisioned you would be doing. So Grace I’ll start with you. When you were a little girl and pictured when you were a grownup, are you doing what you thought you would be doing?

Grace De Leon:

I am doing what I thought I’d be doing. I come from a family of educators, but I chose a different path. Pursuing a degree in accounting I was able to work for, in my first position that I held for a worldwide hotel reservations company in Omaha, Nebraska. That was very rewarding to me. I was with the internal audit team division and I was able to travel to various countries to assist in the team in internal auditing. Also, I’ve through my path, I found a brick and mortar and e-commerce business for 10 years, which specialized in children’s furniture. I’ve been the controller for two construction companies in our local area. And I’ve also worked for both the auditing and the tax department at Long Chilton who merged with CRI back in 2017.

Sandi Guy:

Well, goodness gracious. I’m just tired listening to you and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you have children as well. Right?

Grace De Leon:

I do. I am the proud mother of three amazing children. My daughter, Katie is 24. She’s currently in Dallas pursuing a degree. She’s the school of dentistry. So she’ll be the dentist in two years or so. And my son Christian is 20, he’s in the neuroscience program at the University of Texas in Austin. And my youngest is 15 years old and he’s a freshman in high school.

Sandi Guy:

Okay. So you did all those things and raise kids. Yeah. I haven’t done anything with my life so I’m a little embarrassed. I’m impressed, I’m very impressed. That’s quite the accomplishment right there for sure. I often tell people I don’t have children and it was by choice because I know how much work it is to raise children. So to be as accomplished as you are professionally, and to have raised kids in story you have, when you’re finishing, that’s quite an accomplishment Grace.

Now Fanta what about you, when you think about when you were a little girl or are you living the life you envisioned you’d be living as an adult?

Fanta Koroma:

So personally I would say that I am, but professionally not at all. Growing up, I always had an interest in performing arts. So poetry and spoken word specifically were things that I enjoyed. So I definitely didn’t think I would be working in corporate America as an adult. I thought I’d be performing somewhere.

Sandi Guy:

You do that on the side. Do you write or do any of that on the side, outside of work?

Fanta Koroma:

I do still write on the side. I love to read and I love to write poetry.

Sandi Guy:

Yeah. I think we might need to find a venue for Fanta to present some of her work as spoken work within CRI.

So Kathie, what about you? Are you living the life you thought you’d be living?

Kathie Gottlieb:

I would say the answer is yes and no. So no in the sense that, I always thought I’d be a lawyer. So I always knew I would be a professional, but I really was on the path of being a lawyer. I sidetracked in the tax world and becoming a CPA, but all along being a partner in the firm was just not on the list. It was okay for me not to be a partner, just to be an employee and work hard. So being a partner was not what I envisioned.

Sandi Guy:

Why not? I’m curious.

Kathie Gottlieb:

So I had absolutely no idea. Maybe I thought back then that trying to juggle being a professional and a mother was difficult so I couldn’t do both and be successful at both. And I proved myself to be wrong to that. In fact, I’ll just say this real quick. The day that I was offered income partner in my old firm was the day that I told my bosses at the time that I was pregnant with my first child.

Sandi Guy:

Wow. It’s always interesting to me over the years in public accounting, when younger women, maybe at that senior level through whether it’s coaching sessions or annual or whatever, when they don’t aspire to be partner. And when I ask them why sometimes they’ll say, “Well, I look at how the partners in my office work, and that’s just not what I want to do.” Without realizing, well, you can create partner to look, however you want it to look.

Sometimes I have had some who say, “Well, I don’t think I could.” Which I never liked hearing anyone, especially a female say, I don’t think I can because I’m a firm believer in, you can do whatever you want to do. So, it’s always interesting to me too, to hear why. And I appreciate you being so honest and saying you don’t know. So Fanta I’m curious, I hope I’m not putting you on the spot, but I’m curious because I have gotten to know you a little bit recently, and I do know you are very talented. So, how is it that you’re in corporate America and not pursuing more of your creative self?

Fanta Koroma:

So I realized in my teenage years that customer service and client satisfaction was a strong attribute of mine. Journalism and creative writing was my major when I attended TCC, but I was offered an entry-level position with the state of Florida and the department of management services at 19. So I decided to take a shift in my life. I started as an online agent, and then I just worked my way up and became the fiscal operations manager by the end of it. So I just continued on that path.

Sandi Guy:

I get it. It is hard once you start making money and paying bills to then take a risk. I had an opportunity right after I graduated to go do something completely different, not using my degree that wouldn’t be paying as some of the offers in the business world would have been paying. And I remember thinking, “But what if I’m not making that money after?” And it’s not that I have a regret, but I just remember… The people who do have that, who are brave in that sense, that can just take a chance and go follow their dream. And you know what, who cares about the money? I’m going to go follow my dream and my passion to go do this or that. I always admire those people because I do not have that. I have that I need to know my cheque is coming in this day and this bill is going to be paid. And I always admire those people who do take those choices and those chances, because that’s the courage I personally do not have.

So let’s talk a little bit about support. So Grace, again, you’ve accomplished a lot, and again, with kids you’ve done so much in both of those personal and professional stages. I would personally be exhausted at this point. And you’re quite lovely because I can see you. I understand, I guess others can’t, but I’m looking at you right now. And I think I would be exhausted given everything that you’ve done. And I’m curious, have there been people along the way that helped support you? I mean, you’re certainly entrepreneurial. Have there been people along the way who have helped support you, or maybe some who surprised you? And you don’t have to tell me names. Who maybe weren’t as supportive, who were challenging to you, but you clearly still overcame that.

Grace De Leon:

I did have support in high school. I have support from some of my teachers, but most importantly, I think my parents, they were my biggest fan. They always instilled in all of us. I’m one of six children. And they always instilled… Wanted us to get educated, to work hard and to pursue our dreams and do what made us happy. And I think that’s what led me to do what I did.

Sandi Guy:

That’s always helpful. How about you, Kathie? Did you have somebody who stands out as somebody who, your champion and supporter or cheerleader along the way or the opposite of that for lack of a better term?

Kathie Gottlieb:

I can’t think of the opposite. I can’t think of anyone that really stood in my way as I pursued my career. My supporters for sure, initially was my dad constantly cheering me on. And then, but then as I got married and had children and pursued my career, I could not have done it without my husband who was an equal partner in raising the kids. I don’t have any family in Atlanta from my side, but his sister-in-law was here and she helped out a lot. And then in my early years, when I was with a smaller firm, my bosses, both my kids came to the office when they were little tiny babies. And they were with me during tax season and they were both born ready for tax season.

And they laid on the floor. And if I had a meeting, I would come back and if the baby was gone, someone picked up the baby to take the baby and feed the baby. So it really wasn’t all hands on for me. Great support.

Sandi Guy:

It takes a village. So it takes some colleagues, so to speak.

Kathie Gottlieb:

Absolutely did, took a village.

Sandi Guy:

So to be fair with shout out, how about you Fanta to anyone who big champion or advocate? I feel like I now need to be yours to pursue your creative side, because I do think you’re very talented in that regard, but anybody along the way, who’s been a big champion or supporter?

Fanta Koroma:

I’d actually say my mom she’s been both that my champion and my challenger. So I appreciate her for that. She pushes me to the degree that I need to be pushed. And she questions me when it’s time as well.

Sandi Guy:

Yeah. Moms are usually good about holding us accountable will certainly say. Mine is still pretty good about that. So, the other thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is I think about all the options that women have and it’s limitless, and we should be really excited and celebrate that what a wonderful country that we live in, where you can again, be whoever you want to be, pursue whatever professional or personal path that you want to pursue. But a lot of people don’t feel that they have that option. I mean, you can watch different stories or read about different challenges that people face and it sounds like not that it was easy for us to do, but each of us felt that we could do anything that we wanted to do. And I often wonder why some women don’t have that.

And often it’s usually, maybe you don’t have that cheerleader or somebody cheering you on along the way. But if I’m honest, I then have to look within myself and say, “Okay, well, is there a way maybe I’m not supporting people?” And, I often say that as a Southern female, it’s surprising to me. I, again, it was a decision to not have kids because I have two sisters who both could not wait to become mothers. They are those women who there, it’s the little girls could not wait to be moms, just wasn’t something I thought of. I knew how much work it was. And once they started becoming moms and I saw firsthand how much work it was, I’m like, “No, I think I’m a little selfish. I want to go make some money and go travel the world. But, thanks I’ll come be the best aunt ever.”

So when people ask me about my children and I’m like, “No, I’m married, but I don’t have kids.” And they assume it wasn’t a choice. But when they learned it was a choice, I get some really not so positive responses to that at times. And I think it’s because is Southern women were raised or just women in general probably, there’s an expectation that all women just want to have kids. But I think it works both ways because I have, honestly, when both of my sisters were like, “Oh, I’m so excited to have a baby.” I’m like, “Oh, wow why start a family now go experience, life, go do.” Well. That’s my path. Why am I trying to get them to take my path if this is what they want to do, and it’s their choice, what am I trying to get them to take my path?

And I don’t know why I’m pushing out what’s right for me on them. But, so I think about that a lot. And I wonder how many women out there, maybe they know there’s options, but they’re being pressured either by friends or family or society or whatever, to do something different. So I’m curious if any of you have either experienced that, whether personally, or do you see that in any of your colleagues at work or, especially some of the younger ones who read that… We’re going to be doing a panel later this month, looking at the different seasons of your life as females and what it takes to have it all so to speak. And I’m really looking forward to that because it is different as you go through these different seasons of your life. And I often look at that younger me and decisions I wouldn’t make. So as you look at some of the younger colleagues who were figuring it out and coming out on their own, do you see any of them struggling with that?

Kathie Gottlieb:

I just want to say first, you can do it all. For anyone that’s listening who’s concerned about raising a family, not raising a family, having a career. You really need to be true to yourself and pick your path. I’m not sure if you brought up this idea of judgment. Judgment that you didn’t have kids, judgment that you did have kids. I would say my biggest critic was myself on myself and judge myself. “But I’m trying to have kids, but I’m never with them all day, I’m I being selfish?” That went through my mind a lot. And I had to overcome that in a way that made me feel like I was being a good mom and also being able to be in the workforce. And I thought I did that. And people that don’t have children and pursue their careers, it isn’t choice.

I’ve added. I mean, you know what you want and you should follow your path as well. So, yes. But I do think there’s a little judgment. I don’t know that I judged anyone for not having children, but this might sound bad and it probably will. But I noticed in dialogue with other people and other family and parents that, I seem to enter into a better dialogue with other working moms than non-working moms, there seems to be a lot more in common. I don’t know how that sounds but, that’s true for me.

Sandi Guy:

Listen, I live in a large, very stereotypical Southern neighborhood with sidewalks. It’s a very Catholic neighborhood. I am a Jewish female, no kids. And the majority of our neighborhood are Catholic stay at home moms with many children who go to the private Catholic school. And in the summers, when we’re at the pool, they don’t have a lot to talk to me about, not in an ugly way. There’s just not a lot, I think in common and on our neighborhood Facebook page, when they’re talking, I’ll just say in a nice way, I clearly don’t have a lot in common with them either. And I think that’s natural. I think what they go through day to day and what’s stressful to them, especially right now during the pandemic with kids at home, is going to be very different than what me, as someone without kids, is going through during the pandemic as someone who doesn’t have kids.

So I do think it is very different. I think that’s natural that you would have more in common with somebody who is a working parent than a stay at home parent. I think that’s normal for sure.

So what advice would you have? So if you look back, so let’s go back to looking at our younger self again, because I always think that’s fun. So if you look back at your younger self, and I’m going to say your 17, 18 year old self, so knowing what you know now, do you have any advice for your 18 year old self?

I would say for me, I would say one, don’t get so twisted about the boyfriend. Two, calm down it’s going to be okay. Trust yourself. Trust yourself for sure. I wish I would have trusted myself more in my own judgment when I was 18 and not let myself be influenced by so many of the other things I was hearing people tell me I should be doing or should be thinking about, but I would probably tell myself to trust myself more. So would any of the three of you have advice looking back for your 17, 18 year old self?

Kathie Gottlieb:

Don’t you wish you could do it over sometimes?

Sandi Guy:

No, God, no. You know these people who, when they were like, “Ah, I would love to go back to high school.” I’m like, “We clearly had two very different high school experiences.” I have no desire to go back to elementary school, middle school or high school, maybe college that was fun. But, no.

Kathie Gottlieb:

I would do college over every four years. I loved college.

Sandi Guy:

Right not high school. That’s a good question. Would either of the two of you Grace or Fanta go back and do high school again?

Grace De Leon:

I would not.

Sandi Guy:

Fanta would you do it again?

Fanta Koroma:

I would.

Sandi Guy:

Gosh, so two for two. So hey to each their own. Well, y’all go on. Grace and I are going to be one and done with that. So does anybody have advice for their 18 year old self?

Kathie Gottlieb:

I have so much advice for my 18 year old self that I-

Sandi Guy:

Kathie let’s go one further. What advice do you… So your daughters are, you have one that just graduated in-

Kathie Gottlieb:

22 and 28.

Sandi Guy:

What advice do you have for them?

Kathie Gottlieb:

The advice I have for them are actually following through one day. Some of the advice I would give to that 18 year old person or anybody actually. But I wish I knew this when I was 18 was, really to be patient with myself. Be true to myself, have faith in myself. I lacked confidence most of my life and I had to laugh through it and fake it. I feel like I wasted some time on that, but I had to go on that journey to get to where I am today, but being true to yourself and really taking a hard look at yourself. My kids are following that right now. They’re both really, really, really doing that and very proud mommy. But yeah, it’s just, I wish that I knew what I know now back then. I think I would have been on a different, a little bit of a different path. I probably would have said, “I’m going to be a partner.”

Sandi Guy:

It can be hard to be true to yourself. I think that’s tied to you and I’ve had a lot of conversations around confidence, especially as it relates to women and where that confidence comes from. At times I am overly confident and have an abundance of it. And, I know where that comes from, but it is interesting to me to watch, especially some younger women as they’re coming out of school and starting to work. And I see all of their accomplishments and how smart they are. I’m like, “Gosh, they just got the world laid out in front of them and they can go do whatever they want to do.” And you see them hesitant. And I always wonder, “Gosh, why don’t you have confidence? I mean, you’ve got everything in front of you. You’ve got the brains, you’ve got the opportunities.” And it’s always interesting to me to figure out, gosh, why don’t you see you the way I see you and have that confidence to move forward. So Grace, have you had advice for your kids given your experience?

Grace De Leon:

I’ve just always told them to follow their hearts, do what makes them happy and to aim high that they can do anything that they set their minds to.

Sandi Guy:

It sounds like they are, sounds like you’ve got some pretty smart kids there. So with March being women’s history month, I’m always a fan of anytime you’re looking back at history to learn lessons from that to then also look ahead. So as we look ahead and look at CRI, that’s doing some great things with women first of all. Having this podcast is one of them, very excited to have this platform, to have this discussion. That we’re having several panels within the firm. We’ll be very excited to have a conversation that counts with Phyllis Ingram at the end of the month as well and learn about her path too.

But I’m curious, there’s so many incredibly talented and successful women at Carr, Riggs and Ingram, not just the three on this podcast, but I always think about, gosh, how can we reach them? How can we make sure that they have the support and what people see or need, or it can be so many different things, but, does anybody have any thoughts on things that we can do to engage with women at CRI or even women in our community to make them feel supported in their decisions, whether they’re personal or professional decisions?

With the pandemic, people are having to make some very challenging decisions that affect your personal and professional lives right now. And I just want to make sure, they know that, hey, whatever decisions you’re making, I got your back.

To your point, Kathie, just be true to yourself and decisions, but any thoughts on things that we can do to help support people as they’re making their decisions and then supporting them in those decisions.

Kathie Gottlieb:

The first word that comes to my mind is empathy. When you say that, it reminds me of when I flew on airplanes at this stage of my life and listening to young parents with a screaming baby. And instead of thinking “Someone get that baby quiet.” It’s like, “Oh, those poor parents.” So in that thought process, a lot of empathy, especially now for young families, women and men. We certainly have plenty of men in my office that are care-taking their kids too and sharing that. So I think having compassion and empathy for those women and young dads is pretty important right now.

Sandi Guy:

Gosh, that is such a great example. Especially during the pandemic as a whole. You watch on the news people who aren’t able to be with family members or their caretakers of family members who were sick during the pandemic. My family has been incredibly blessed and hasn’t been faced with that. And I just can’t imagine what those folks have gone through. And then even just empathy, we have a Texan on the call and I think about everything that’s happened in Texas with snow, I can’t imagine being a mom with young kids at home and you have no power, it’s below freezing and your water pipes burst and you can’t… I don’t know what to do. I want to get in my car and drive to Texas and put you in my car and drive you back. I just can’t imagine.

And so, I think that’s a great example, Kathie is that empathy and, how do you go and say, “Gosh, I can’t imagine being on a flight with a crying baby. You know what? Let me take the baby for a little bit and give you a break.” Although I’m not suggesting giving strangers, your baby. I may not be a mom, but I’m a good aunt. And I know don’t give the baby to strangers. I do know that rule.

But any other thoughts on things that we can do, even if it’s to understand where people are struggling. I know people can be really prideful. I raised my hand, I am incredibly prideful and I am not one to admit if I’m struggling, I’m not one to ask for help, even if it’s true. Understanding how, if somebody is struggling, whether it’s with choices that they’re trying to make in their managing it all, managing their personal and professional life, and just reaching out to them and letting them know that you’re there. Any thoughts on how we could do that? Even if it’s something that somebody did for one of the three of you.

Kathie Gottlieb:

I guess the only thing I’ll say to that is the one thing, at least in the Atlanta SPU that seems to be working well, is that we do get that people are struggling through COVID right now, or just even if COVID wasn’t going on and you’ve got young kids and this worked for me having the flexibility to alter my hours a little bit. So being at the office during core hours, but maybe sharing the responsibilities with my husband, where I would get in really early and I’d be in charge of picking up the kids and he would work late. Just figuring out the hours that worked for everybody. So, in Atlanta we have that, we’ve been very fortunate that we have that flexibility.

Sandi Guy:

I think it’s that one-on-one connection. To understand where people are struggling. One of the things I love about our new environment is the, everybody’s video now. And so I can see people’s faces. And I love that when somebody calls me and we’re going to talk about something work related, but you can just see in their face something’s going on and just to stop for a minute, go, “Hey, are you okay? Is everything okay?” And it’s okay to ask that. I’ve asked people, “Hey, are you okay?” And they’ve just stopped and broke down and “No, I’m not okay.” And I’m like, “Well, let’s stop. And let’s talk about that. What do you need?” “I’m just having a bad day.” “Well, let’s get that out. Don’t worry about work. We’ll get that taken care of.”

And then understanding what they need, because whether it’s two moms, they may have two completely separate needs. You may have a mom who doesn’t have a husband. Who doesn’t have that community around them to support them. And it could be where I would normally take my kids is closed and I’m struggling because I need to get my available hours up or, it can be somebody who… I feel so bad for people who maybe they’re new to a city. They don’t have any family. They don’t have any kids. Damn the pandemic hits, and they have nothing and they’re alone and they’re isolated and they have nobody. And it’s how are we reaching out to them just to go, hey, just gut check. “How are you doing? Are you okay?” Unfortunately, again having the video lately helps you can see people’s body language and see how they’re doing. I know I’ve appreciated. There’s been a couple of days at the end of very long day. Sometimes people go, “Hey, your energy level is not where it should be.” I’m like, “Oh Lord, no, I am exhausted. It has been one of those days.”

But I think that definitely helps. I know people often don’t want to be intrusive. I have so many, I’ll go ahead and say it. I have so many male partners who worry about some of their female colleagues and they’ll call me about it I say “Ask her if she’ll appreciate it.” And oftentimes they’re like, “I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to do the wrong thing.” And I’m like, we went through this during black history month talking about it’s okay to say, how are you? Are you okay? Just because it’s a different gender doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate. Ask them, are they okay, they’ll appreciate it. They may tell, you no, but at least say, “Hey, I’m just worried about you. Your energy’s not where it usually is. I just want to make sure you’re okay. If there’s anything you’re ever comfortable or if I can help you with anything, please let me know.” That’s okay.

So, and I know that that empathy is there, but for some reason, people are so worried they’re going to say the wrong thing. And hopefully during the month of February, we’ve talked to people enough to let them know. Sometimes you do more damage, not saying anything at the risk of offending them by just saying, are you okay? Can I help you?

Well, I want to thank you three ladies for joining the podcast today. I realized that when I reach out to professionals in public accounting in the month of March, that’s not the best time for me to be asking you to come have a discussion about women, but in a lot of ways, it’s actually the best time for me to be reaching out and asking you to have a discussion about women. Women certainly make up the majority of the public accounting workforce if you didn’t know that.

And I very much appreciate Fanta being willing to be on this call because a lot of times people often forget, although 50% of CPA’s are women, more than 50% of accounting firms, aren’t just the CPAs. It’s also people in those very key, functional support areas too. And I don’t want to overlook those areas as well. I think that’s a very key voice within the firm too. And they are equally busy too. So thank you very much. And thank you CRI for giving us this opportunity, using the It Figures podcast, to have this discussion. So be sure to check out other It Figures episodes and look for more in the future. Thank you.

Outro:

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