As a member of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) assurance practice, I rose from an associate to partner in 10 years. My career path was clear and my goal was to lead increasingly complex engagements. So I was very surprised when our senior partner asked me to take on a strategy role that focused internally on the future of the firm.
Although I was honored to be considered, I hesitated. I questioned why the firm would want me to develop strategy when my passion was client service. I was also reluctant to give up my clients since this new role was only a temporary two-year assignment. In fact, I was worried about what I would do next. The personal sacrifices required were equally daunting. I lived in Washington, DC with my husband and young son and would be commuting each week to New York. But despite these concerns, I wondered: Would I ever have another chance to contribute so directly to our company’s future?
I agonized for weeks and asked advice from everyone I trusted. My advisors universally agreed that this was a fantastic opportunity to work with key leaders on challenging issues. I decided to lean in, but conditioned my acceptance on two key points: I negotiated to keep one client, and I insisted on flexibility in my schedule so I never missed a school performance or parent-teacher conference.
Saying yes to this opportunity was an absolute turning point in my career. I gained an understanding of the entire firm and a much broader perspective of our business. I worked with an incredibly talented group of senior people whom I never would have met otherwise. I had no idea how valuable that network would turn out to be; yet almost a decade later, I still rely on contacts I met then. Those two years laid the foundation for the wonderful variety of positions I have since held, including my current role leading human capital for the U.S. firm.
When I look back at how hard I struggled with the decision, I wonder whether a man would have felt so daunted by the unknown. For me, it was a big leap, but once I made it, I never hesitated again. The best advice I received at that time was from a male colleague who told me to find my voice and not be a note-taker. I thought of him often when I was the only woman in the room and automatically expected to take notes. I found the courage to refuse politely and made sure I contributed to the substance of the dialogue. Now, almost nine years later I no longer ask, "Why me?" when offered an opportunity. Instead I reply “tell me more” and embrace whatever the next chapter might bring.