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Power: a legacy of listening and endurance

Partner Stacy Gilbert was recently featured in Crain's New York Business for her article on women in power. In this article, Stacy shares her thoughts on what defines a powerful woman, the women in her life who have inspired her, and Citrin Cooperman's internal initiatives on empowering and supporting women within the firm.

The term “powerful woman” means something different to everyone.

Most people associate it with glass-ceiling-busting C-suite executives, especially in areas where fewer women have succeeded. In October 2021, Crain’s published an article that announced the first woman and Latina to oversee a Big Four accounting firm’s largest regional market. Three other women were named in the article—including yours truly at Citrin Cooperman as the only women who run the New York City offices of the 30 largest accounting firms in the country.

The mention came as a complete surprise, but even more surprising was that I was one of only four women to hold this distinction. While it was wonderful to be included with such impressive, accomplished women, it sparked some thoughts and questions. It has been a long-standing issue in firms’ hierarchy: the number of women decreases as the air becomes more rarefied. That being said, we have seen significant progress in the past few years as the gender ratio continues to improve. Women have made historic headway in positions of power in politics, entertainment, business and public advocacy, and it is just a question of time before the gender gap is eliminated.

When we typically look at powerful women, however, we look at this concept with the perspective of financial and professional success. Yet many women do not fit perfectly into the stereotype of the blazer-wearing C-suite executive. I know this firsthand by looking closely at the powerful women in my life—namely, my grandmother and mother--who inspired me and supported me in becoming the person I am today.

As far back as I can remember, my grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. It could have simply been her nature. Or perhaps her struggles made her who she was. She escaped from Eastern Europe and traveled through many countries before coming to the United States. At the age of 30, she found herself widowed with three young children and virtually no financial resources. Despite the challenges she faced, she never gave up or complained. She did what she had to do to both survive and thrive while maintaining a balance of strength, love and resilience throughout her life’s journey.

I fondly remember her most as the grandmother who let me play with her makeup and try on her shoes. She never went out of the house without makeup because she always insisted on looking her best, no matter how she felt inside. Her example left its mark—to this day, I do not go out of the house without makeup.

That’s my homage to her resiliency. She was truly a powerful woman.

My mother is also a powerful woman who continues to significantly affect my life. In many ways, she is definitely her mother’s child, and she is much more successful than she gives herself credit for. She worked for most of her life while raising her children, long before it was even deemed socially acceptable.

At work, despite her lack of a C-suite title, there was no question who really ran the show. Her bosses relied on her more than they would have ever acknowledged. In fact, after she retired, one boss blamed her for doing so much for him that he couldn’t function. It was indicative of how much power she really wielded within her workspace.

This influence was not limited to her office, however. Within her own family, her impact as the backbone and matriarch continues to be far greater than she could ever imagine.

My list of all the impactful women in my life could continue, but the point is that powerful women are all around us and their achievements are often vastly different from what society typically perceives as “success.” I am fortunate to be surrounded by them in all aspects of my life, both professionally and personally.

As for myself, I believe my power is found in the ability to listen with intention. As someone who provides consulting services to businesses and individuals while managing a large office, I need to hear feedback and understand my people to make effective decisions and balance everyone’s needs. I listen to clients explain their pain points to help close gaps. I listen to colleagues to learn where they feel fulfilled or what they’re lacking. This can be exhausting, exhilarating, and gratifying all at the same time, but I plan on keeping my heels on the ground to listen, learn, and understand to add value wherever I can.

While my contributions may be more visible in quiet moments than in grand gestures, I’m comfortable knowing that the impact will be greater than I realize, just like my mother’s and grandmother’s power over their respective domains. When I found out that I had been named as one of four women heading New York City offices for the 30 largest accounting firms in the nation, I recognized that I had been afforded an opportunity that many people do not get or even seek. I am beyond grateful for that and hope to pay it forward.

To that end, Citrin Cooperman will host a June event, Women at the Wheel, that will include a panel of remarkable women who will share their journeys. I look forward to being inspired and educated by such notable people who have had an impact on our successes and everyday lives. Listening to others is crucial to self-improvement; what they can tell us from their experience is priceless.

Subscribers can also view the full article from Crain's 5/30/2022 issue here:

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