Thirty-eight years ago, I arrived in New York City armed with an immigrant’s visa, a college education and work experience at a professional services firm in the Philippines. A month after my arrival, I accepted a position with Haskins & Sells, which later become Deloitte & Touche.
Imagine being an immigrant Asian woman in a male dominated profession at a time when there were no women partners across the profession or any female leaders within our clients’ organizations. Back then, visible women role models did not exist anywhere in corporate America. Overcoming the odds meant establishing an early mentoring relationship.
I was fortunate to have had an enlightened manager who took an interest in my career and served as my mentor. I remember him saying, “You must be good, with all the strikes against you.” Instead of taking offense, I welcomed his candor, direction and advice. He took me under his wing and recommended me for engagements that broadened my skill set. He even “talked me up” to partners across the organization. His support was especially valuable to my career advancement because I was raised to let my work and accomplishments speak for themselves.
Over the years, I’ve learned a number of life lessons and good advice, namely:
- Know and be true to yourself. Hold true to your values. They define and ground you, and they let you sleep well at night.
- Be organized and learn to prioritize. Learn how to get things done effectively and efficiently, despite time constraints.
- Don’t stop learning. Education is a lifelong pursuit.
- Seek help, not answers. Consulting others, especially those with differing viewpoints, is a sign of strength.
- Treat others as you would want to be treated. If you can only remember one piece of advice, remember this.
The year I made partner at Deloitte, I was only the second woman in auditing admitted into the firm’s partnership and the first Asian woman partner among the Big 8 in the United States. Back then, women made up less than 1 percent of the total partnerships within the Big 8. Today, I am pleased to say that I am a part of an organization that leads the profession, with women making up about 20 percent of the partnership. Now that is progress.