Julie Williams was being considered for partner at PwC. But with ideas of having children in the near future, she faced an all-too familiar dilemma for working women: How could she be the mother she wanted to be while balancing her work commitments?
Thanks to some creative thinking and her company’s steadfast confidence in her abilities, Williams found the solution. Her unconventional climb to partner status at PwC is one of the reasons Williams will be a participant in the 8th Annual Fisher School Women in Accounting Symposium on Friday and Saturday at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.
Williams (MAcc ’94) had been a manager in PwC’s Atlanta office for five years when she was ready to start a family. She was prepared to leave PwC, but the firm’s partners convinced her to stay and take advantage of an interesting initiative the firm was implementing.
“The firm was really focused on retaining working mothers,” Williams said. “Fortunately for me, they started a pilot program for working moms and asked me to participate. From my perspective, it was almost too good to be true. In making a career decision of whether to stay with the firm or leave for a corporate position, I knew that I loved what I did as a PwC tax consultant, so I took a leap of faith and chose to stay.”
Still, Williams had doubts whether she could successfully balance family life and work, especially when the opportunity to become a partner arose. In a moment of courage, Williams made an intriguing proposal to the firm’s partnership: She would enter the partnership process as an 85-percent, part-time partner, and accept a compensation decrease for a more flexible working arrangement to make time for her new and growing family.
“I know I’m the only mom my kids are ever going to have,” Williams said. “There will be a time in the future when I can give the firm more time, but right now I simply can’t. I want to be the one that influences my kids. I wanted to be active in their lives.”
The firm approved her proposal, and Williams was admitted as a part-time partner. Even with a more flexible arrangement and support from her partners, Williams’ pursuit of balancing work and home continued to have its challenges. She recalls working from home one afternoon in 1993 when the Vice President of Tax at The Home Depot called.
“I saw the client’s office number come up on my cell phone, and, of course, I knew I had to take it,” Williams said. “But here I am, sitting in our sunroom on the floor feeding my kids Cheerios to keep them quiet! For a split second, I thought ‘Wow, this isn’t bad.’ Then, I turn away for a moment and the next thing I know both kids are screaming and crying.”
“My immediate response was to tell him that apparently now was not a good time to talk. Humbled, I called him back and start apologizing for the interruption. His response was, ‘Julie, I owe you an apology. I didn’t realize you were with your family. I don’t want to interrupt your time.’ That surprised me and made me really think. Sometimes, we forget that our clients are human too, and they have the same personal issues as we do. The result of this one afternoon call was I got to know him on a personal level as he shared stories about his children as well. He became an incredible supporter of mine and I was even invited to his daughter’s wedding.”
Sharing strategies and advice with the next generation of female leaders is an important reason Williams, who participates in PwC’s women leadership series, makes time for events like this weekend’s symposium.
“To me, the best advice you can give is to have the appropriate self-awareness,” Williams said. “Recognize who you are, your instincts and how your personality and character play in decision-making.”
Although Williams’ ascension up PwC’s hierarchy was admittedly difficult, she said she wouldn’t change a thing about her experience.
“I’m happy with where I am, and happy with who I am: I work with incredible people and teams and I spending my time with my children,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”