My three-decade career with Ernst & Young began with a false start of sorts. When I was weighing my job options, I ultimately chose another organization — and knew almost instantly I had made the wrong move. I decided I could stay in a place whose values didn't reflect mine, or quit and make the uncomfortable request to return to Ernst & Young; I found myself asking for a do-over earlier than I had hoped.
As a former college athlete, I’ve always been competitive and ambitious, so starting off on the wrong foot made me even hungrier for success. Over time, this rough beginning became a beacon for staying true to my values, and I advanced in various roles in audit and tax. I focused on becoming a partner and making a difference. To women working in professional services today that may sound trite, but here was the catch: there were no women partners in Indianapolis at the time. In 1990, after nine years of long hours and a lot of work, I became the first woman partner.
But I had more to do, learn, and discover. I found myself transferring to Washington, D.C., first serving as Ernst & Young LLP’s National Director of Insurance Tax Services before leaving to work for the U.S. Department of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration.
It was by observing Hillary Clinton that I truly learned the art of leaning in. As she traveled around the world, I saw that she would always make sure women were in photographs and part of the group, even if it wasn’t common practice in that country. When our team burned the midnight oil on healthcare reform, she asserted that we would do it right or we wouldn’t do it at all.
I brought those lessons with me when I returned to Ernst & Young and faced what I consider my ultimate Lean In experience. I was on our executive board, our highest-ranking decision-making body. Our Global Chairman and CEO was leading a discussion on a contentious topic, and I was one of three women who asserted my position. It wasn’t until the fourth person — a man — delivered the same position that the Chairman said it seemed right. He heard the women, but he listened to the man — and yet had no idea he had done so. The women at the table faced a decision —commiserate behind the scenes that things aren’t equal for women, even at the top, or lean in and respectfully play back for him what we had experienced. In a private moment, we shared with him that what had occurred was not uncommon, even if it wasn’t his intention to exclude our opinions.
Today, he shares this “aha moment” about his unconscious bias publicly and is a true champion of inclusive leadership — making sure every person is empowered to lean in and contribute a unique perspective, not just women. Smart businesses include women. Remarkable businesses value everyone; they value differences.