Joyce Simon went from social work to a career in accounting, reaching her goal of making partner in the accounting firm Ernst & Young.
So when she talks about career planning, she speaks from experience.
"I believe in the basic marketing premise that you have to be different. You can't assuage yourself by saying you can be better by working harder and smarter," she said.
"In particular, women haven't fully recognized that," Ms. Simon said. "They have spent a lot of effort 'credentialing' themselves. In accounting, they've become good technicians." That isn't enough, she said.
The Chicago accountant is on sabbatical this year, devoting herself full time to the presidency of the American Woman's Society of CPAs (AWSCPA). The accounting group is particularly interested in women's career issues.
The AWSCPA just finished a member survey that found more than half the woman accountants had left at least one job because it didn't offer opportunities for growth -- the glass ceiling.
Lack of effective career planning is also a barrier, Ms. Simon believes. She's put together a strategic outline for women and men professionals who want to take more active control of their bTC careers. She divides it into classic planning steps -- plan, execute and evaluate.
* Planning. "Develop a vision" that is both realistic about the external facts of your career and realistic about where and how you like to work. Then set goals with specific time limits, she said.
"Identify milestones and due dates to ensure that you are on the right track. . . . Include continuing education plans as well as self-improvement plans. You have to make sure you have the right substance and form to meet your plans."
* Execution. This could be subtitled "Taking charge." Like career counselor and author Martin Yate, Ms. Simon recommends actively seeking out plum assignments and soliciting feedback.
"Don't wait to get assigned to the right job or to be transferred to the right department," she said. If you don't get an assignment you wanted, ask why. Learn from the response.
Don't wait to be invited to informal networks in the office. This is a point Ms. Simon said she particularly hammers on when she speaks to women's groups.
"As you do straw polls, you find the majority [of women] work through lunch or eat by themselves. Certainly some of that can be related to other [family] responsibilities. But that's really ignoring the whole social aspect of the job."
If the office group doesn't invite you to lunch, invite yourself, she said. "If men are reluctant to go to lunch alone with you, ask two men," she advises in her written guidelines.
Find a mentor and coach, she said. And don't ignore professional women's groups.
* Evaluation. Keep reviewing your achievements against your goals.
How true. Ms. Simon, who resigned from Ernst & Young last fall when she assumed the AWSCPA post, plans yet another career -- although she won't provide further details yet.
"I decided around four years ago that there were some things I wanted to accomplish," she said. "I wanted to become a partner. And then I wanted to move out of the public accounting arena . . . to emphasize a different subset of skills I've developed."
Although Ms. Simon focuses her advice on individual professionals' own careers, there are some cautionary tales for upper management in the AWSCPA's "glass-ceiling" poll.
Faced with barriers to upward movement, 25 percent of the women certified public accountants said they would leave. Just 19 percent would talk the problem over with a supervisor or mentor.
Although 47 percent said opportunities were equal for men and women at their firms, nearly as many -- 44 percent -- disagreed.