Episode 68: Path to Partner Series – Cindy McMaster

As we celebrate Women's History Month at DHG, we're featuring a four-part "Path to Partner" series, featuring inspirational interviews with some of our most esteemed female leaders. We've selected partners at various stages in their career to provide their perspective and insight on their own career path and the career path for women in general. In this podcast, Cindy McMaster, a tax partner in our Richmond, Virginia office, talks about her experience in the industry and how she has embraced change with her recent move from South Carolina to Richmond.

Episode 68 Transcript:

AGH: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear about the things that matter the most to us – our careers, flexibility, and of course, stories about our people.

As we celebrate Women's History Month here at DHG, we're doing a four-part "Path to Partner" series, featuring inspirational interviews with some of our most esteemed female leaders. We've selected partners at various stages in their career to provide their perspective and insight on their own career path and the career path for women in general.

Joining me today is Cindy McMaster. Cindy is a tax partner in our Richmond, Virginia office. Her focus includes cost segregation studies, optimization of tax accounting methods and periods, tax accruals for financial statements, IRS audits, and state representation. Cindy is a successful partner here at DHG with 25+ years’ experience and she will enter retirement in the next 7-10 years or so. She is someone who really embraces change. Just 3 years ago, after 20+ years in South Carolina, she moved to an entirely new market in Virginia. Cindy, I’m very excited to have you here today.

CM: Thank you, Alice Grey.

AGH: Okay. Let's begin with an easy question. What made you choose tax accounting as your career?

Applause for Cindy McMasterCM: Well, I can't say that I knew growing up that I wanted to be a tax accountant. Actually, my goal was just to graduate high school. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I decided I should go to college. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was number 7 in a line of 10 children.

Then, after high school, I received an associate degree and went to work for a law firm in upstate New York. It was while working for this law firm that I decided to go back to school. One of the partners at the law firm was a mentor to me and encouraged me to further my education. At this point, I knew I wanted to be in accounting. I really enjoyed my cost accounting class in college and decided to go work for a manufacturer.

Other students I was in school with said that they were going to get their CPA license, so I decided that was something I should do too. Then, when I started my first job in public accounting, I was doing both audit and tax. After a couple of years, the firm hired a full-time assurance person from a Big Four firm and moved me into a tax-only role. It really wasn't my decision, but I was completely fine with it. The tax work came easier and made sense to me.

AGH: Wow! One of 10 children.

CM: Yes.

AGH: Secondly, I can't believe that you ended up in accounting because of peer pressure. That’s fabulous. I love it!

CM: I know. It worked marvelously.

AGH: I never would have guessed that in a million years. I mentioned in my intro that you recently moved to our Richmond, Virginia market. What spurred that decision and what was it like to begin in a new market?

Cindy McMaster and partner at holiday partyCM: The opportunity to transfer to Richmond initially came about in me checking the mobility book in my annual IBP. From there, I learned that Richmond had a need for a partner transfer due to upcoming partner retirements. Mike Crawford and Tricia Wilson approached me about considering a transfer.

There were a lot of discussions and meetings around the decision, as you can imagine. I distinctly recall a trip with my husband to visit Richmond to meet the partners there. I imagined we would have endless conversation about the transfer on our travel home. Instead, we both rode in complete silence, just analyzing our own thoughts about the opportunity.

During this final decision process, my husband would say something that would make me feel like he didn't want me to accept it. Other times, he did want me to go. Then finally, I said to him, “I think it feels right to move to Richmond.” He said, “Great. That is what I've been waiting for you to say.”

To answer the second part of your question, I definitely underestimated the challenges that go along with moving to a new city. Having an entirely new staff and clients to serve as well. And to do that in the beginning of January, which is our busy season. My impression was that it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. As the days and months and now years have passed by, my comfort level definitely has increased. I'm grateful for all the folks in Central VA who helped me network and included me on their pursuit teams to make me feel a part of their team.

For me, I look back and think about what a great career move this was for me. It provided me with an opportunity to lead a much bigger tax team, to have other tax partners in my office to collaborate with, and then ultimately, to have the amazing opportunity to serve on the firm's Executive Committee last year.

AGH: Yes, Absolutely. Richmond is a great city, so I know that you're enjoying being in Richmond as well.

CM: Oh, absolutely. Just a wonderful creative community as well.

AGH: Okay, let's move on. Let's talk a little bit about Women's History Month. As a female in the industry with many years’ experience, what would you say has been the most challenging aspect of being a female in a male-dominated industry?

CM: Well, let’s see. I moved from New York to South Carolina in the late 90's, to kind of frame it in a time frame. I joined DHG in 2000. If I recall correctly, 3 out of the 30 partners at the firm were female when I started. So it kind of seemed like the odds were not in my favor, making partner at 1 to 10 odds. The C-Suite executives at that time were male, most networking clubs were male. I was the second female president at a club in Spartanburg that was 80-years-old.

There were instances in a few client meetings where I felt like a secretary. I was there to take notes rather than be an important part of the conversation. I decided I needed to be more assertive and confident, that I was intelligent and had something to contribute as well. Reflecting back now, I believe being seen and heard as an equal was probably the biggest challenge then.

AGH: Yeah. I was just on a call the other day and someone was coaching another female partner saying, “Don't ask if you can be a part of the conversation. Just be a part of the conversation.”

CM: Maybe still it somewhat exists today.

AGH: I mean, I think it’s also part of our nature as women. We need to know that it's okay to be a part of the conversation.

CM: Right.

AGH: At DHG, we lead with the word inclusion when we talk about inclusion and adversity. I think most people lead with diversity. What are some of the things that people can do to foster a more inclusive work environment that makes women feel like it's okay to speak up and have a seat at the table.

Cindy McMaster with male colleagues

CM: I think that's a great question. One of the things I try to do is to be more transparent when it comes to my own life. I feel like if I’m real with other people they will feel more comfortable and more open to share their thoughts and speak up. I also think when people are talking we really need to make sure we're listening. Don't be thinking about the next path, or how much time it has been, really just invest in the person and listen to what they're sharing with you.

I believe being heard makes people know that they are being included. My last suggestion is to make it a point to remember the names of spouses and children and to periodically ask about them. I believe people want to work with others who know that they care about them.

AGH: Yeah, totally agree. I think that we work in a very special place where our culture definitely sets the precedent that that's who we are.

CM: Absolutely.

AGH: Since we're celebrating Women's History Month, do you think that there are unique obstacles, or barriers that women continue to face today in 2019? Do you have any advice for overcoming these barriers?

CM: Well, I think women enter the workforce in their 20's. By their 40's, they potentially have to take multiple years to birth their children and to nurture them. This continues to be a challenge as compared to our male co-workers who don't necessarily have to push the pause button at all.

This is not likely something that we, as women, can overcome, since this is our role in nature. This is kind of who we are. I reflect back to when my children were young, I heard the phrase guilty working mother syndrome. That described me to a T. My advice for getting beyond this feeling is to set priorities and know what you want. Knowing what you want allows you to say no and give yourself permission.

I know there are some great books out there to kind of learn how to set those boundaries. Recognize that you can't do everything yourself and outsource. There are many services for cooking and cleaning and childcare. Make sure you use them and don’t try to be the superhero.

I also think delegation to the people on your team helps them grow and develop. If the task might be a little bit challenging, they're going to feel like they're growing. I think this applies to your team at home as well. Your daughter may not know how to fold laundry at 7, but you can have her do it. It may not be perfect, but it will be done.

AGH: That’s right.

CM: I think at the top of my advice list is to take care of your health. Women tend to take care of everyone but themselves. Get exercise, meditate, etc. If you're not at your best physically, you can't perform at a superstar level at work or at home.

AGH: What great advice. You hit on something earlier, thinking through barriers and priorities as a woman. One of the things that I've had to learn, as someone who did press pause later on in my career, at the age of 38, is about women having it all. I don't know that you can ever have it all. You have to just define what “it all” is for you.

CM: Absolutely.

AGH: When I think about myself, I think having it all for me is having time with my amazing family and having an amazing career. When I defined this, I gave up some of those outside things; some of the charity work and even some of the socializing. For me, I figured out what was important to me and I got rid of other things that might have been barriers to my success in the two areas that were most important to me. I think your advice there is spot on.

CM: Absolutely. I also think that that changes; as your children have different needs, as they grow, as they become adult children. Like me, I have grandchildren. Those things changed 3-years-ago when I had the opportunity to transfer to Richmond. I didn't have to consider moving my children or upsetting their lives in any way. It was really just about me and my husband. It came at a perfect time to not be a more challenging decision, because I didn't have to consider that.

Now, I have three lovely granddaughters and I want to spend as much time with them as I can. So they became a shift in priority for me as well. I think it changes and just recognize that it's going to change and look for it to change.

AGH: What great advice. Well, I have certainly enjoyed this conversation. I know that those who listen will definitely take away some great advice. Thanks for joining us.

CM: Sure. Thank you.

AGH: Thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you'll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our Life at DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers.

Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.

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