Education: BS, San Jose State University
First Job: Associate, KPMG Peat Marwick
What I'm Reading: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg.
Headquarters: Pleasanton, California
Annual Revenues: $16 million
Karen Burns • Sensiba San Filippo
Assurance Partner2014 award winner
In my accounting and business-consulting career, I’ve learned to know who I am as a person and to be mindful of how I treat others. Understanding these personal lessons has helped me achieve greater success professionally. I continually strive to achieve work/life balance and live according to the Golden Rule. I believe in leading by example and as such, am often sought out to give advice to young professionals.
Define what balance means to you. People spend a significant amount of time talking about and yearning for balance in their lives. There is no one successful approach for how to achieve balance. It is almost never achieved at any single point in time, but rather over a period of time. Whoever said we could have it all was correct—just not at the same time or in equal increments. If you are flexible and less prescriptive about the number of hours you spend daily on work, family, community, and personal time, you will generally be happier.
Treat others with respect and a sense of fairness. Everyone has their own perspective and stylistic nuances on how to relate to people. I believe in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When confronted with a difficult decision, or encountering challenging people, a good strategy to aid in constructive communication is to state things in the form of questions rather than statements. Also remember to listen twice as much as you speak. Another one of my guiding principles is that we have two ears and one mouth—we should use each of them accordingly.
Recognize that every phase of your career will help you grow, including the obstacles. Learning from those obstacles is how you build a successful career. I see each part of my career as a unique stepping stone to where I am today. Each decision I have made, both small and large, was an opportunity to achieve balance, build relationships, and often times begin the next chapter of my journey.
What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?
To succeed and remain competitive in my field (accounting), staying current on technical and industry issues, both of which are constantly changing, is essential. For professional service providers, success is based on the relationships you build and maintain. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace?
How did you deal with it? Amongst my peers and colleagues, I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve not faced discrimina- tion for being a woman. When I’ve encountered it in other situations, I have sought advice from my peers on handling the specific situation. To determine the right dynamic for success, often a team approach works best. If you can create a team with members of a different age, race, or gender, others may feel more comfortable, thus creating a winning situation for all involved.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Build a support structure as you grow your career. There is no substitute for having a support structure in your home, work, and community. No one can be everything to everyone. Emphasizing your strengths and surroundings yourself with those that complement your weaknesses will help ensure your success.