Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, a large public accounting and financial advising firm with offices in Asheville, recently held a panel and reception for local businesswomen.
It was the firm’s second annual ‘Women Forward’ community event. ‘Women Forward’ is a company-wide initiative aimed at retaining and promoting women within the firm. About 75 local women, and a handful of men, attended the event at Celine & Company in Asheville.
Kendra Ferguson, CPA, an Assurance manager with the firm, and a 2016 Forty Under 40 Honoree, organized a panel discussion with three women who have risen through the ranks in their respective professions. Included were Taylor Foss, senior vice president of organizational transformation at Mission Health; Dr. Margarita Gregg, acting director for the National Centers for Environmental Information; and Tricia Wilson, managing partner of the Carolinas region of DHG who also services on its executive committee.
Questions for the panel were preselected, and Ferguson served as moderator. The panelists were asked questions about their work, what it took to move up through the ranks, and balancing their careers with family and other responsibilities.
Foss, with more than 25 years of human resources executive leadership experience, said being a working mother, and now grandmother, required her to be more flexible and adaptive. She described tactics she found helpful, such as hiring someone to run errands for her, and trying not to feel she needed to be perfect at everything. Foss shared her experiences with humor, saying, “you just can’t make your own Christmas paper and work full time.”
Gregg is the manager of the world’s largest collection of publicly available weather, climate, coastal and geophysical data, and a field largely dominated by men. Her advice was to “believe in yourself, know you can do it, and anything is possible.”
Work/home balance is a current challenge for Gregg. Her assignment is in Asheville, but her husband, and her home, are in Maryland. She told the young businesswomen she and her husband made a strict agreement to avoid work on the weekends when then can be together. She admitted it was the first time in her life she has done this, but it has resulted in enjoying more quality time.
Gregg also told the assembled group to acknowledge up front they will make mistakes. “Learn from them, that’s the important thing.”
Wilson has more than 20 years as a CPA, and in addition to her role a managing partner of the Carolinas, she also serves as the president of the DHG Foundation, the firm’s philanthropic outreach. When asked about work/life balance, she said that work/life ‘integration,’ rather than ‘balance’ was key to her success. “Sometimes it is important to be totally focused on work, but other times, it is possible to enjoy a rich personal life.” She spoke about the need for both men and women to be more aware and sensitive about comments and assumptions. All three panelists agreed it was important to “just say what you mean and don’t be afraid of rejection.”
The panelists were asked what they would tell their ‘younger self.’ Wilson said “have a lot of gratitude, don’t be too serious, enjoy your job, be authentic, and make sure your focus is where you want it to be.” Gregg said she would tell her ‘younger self to get rid of self doubt and self criticism along with the need to overachieve. She told the audience, “don’t get too comfortable. There are times I might have pushed to do some new things, but I held back.”
Wilson is the co-leader of DHG’s ‘companywide Women Forward’ initiative. “Women Forward helps us get challenges out on the table and discuss them openly,” she said. The company has stated that advancing the careers of women is a “winning solution” for its employees and clients. To that end, it supports programs in DHG locations around the southeast.
By Mary Koppenheffer