Episode 69: Path to Partner Series – Ashley Ensley

Portrait of Ashley EnsleyAs we celebrate Women’s History Month at DHG, we’re featuring a four-part “Path to Partner” series with 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. Ashley Ensley, an assurance partner in our Fort Worth, TX office, joins us in this final installment of the series. She recently relocated to Fort Worth to help grow our practice there and she represents a leader who is fairly new to the partner role.


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; flexibility, careers, and of course, our people.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month here at DHG, we're doing a four-part series featuring inspirational interviews with some of our most esteemed partners. We selected partners at various career stages to provide perspective and insight into their careers and their path to partner.

Joining me today is Ashley Ensley. She represents a leader who's fairly new to the partner role. Ashley is an assurance partner in our Fort Worth office and she actually relocated to this office to help grow our practice there. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what spurred the move. Welcome, Ashley.

AE: Thank you. Thanks for having me today.

AGH: Absolutely. Last year, you became a partner at DHG, which was very exciting and such a significant career milestone. Talk to me about the work to get there and the sense of accomplishment that you felt when you found out that you had made partner.

AE: Absolutely. I’d just like to start by saying that this part of my career and during this time in particular, it's just really awesome and so exciting. I was really honored to be admitted into the partnership last June, in 2018. I think back on my journey here with the firm, I started full-time right out of college in 2006. I look at all of the people that I've been able to work with, all of the places that I've been able to go and the opportunities I've had - some of them assigned or given to me and others that I decided to take along the way. It is a great sense of accomplishment to look back over those 12 or 13 years to see how far I've come and how much I've grown as a professional and an individual. I'm just incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

AGH: That’s awesome. As I mentioned earlier, you recently moved to Fort Worth. I know it coincided with you becoming a partner, but was it related to becoming a partner?

AE: I would say it was related, but it's not fully the reason that I decided to relocate to Fort Worth. I was on a partner track in one of our other offices in North Carolina. It's just that that track looked a little bit different. The work I was going to be doing was a little bit different and the timing was a little bit slower, but I knew I was going to get there. I had faith in our leadership and in myself that I would get there.

Relocating to Fort Worth did accelerate that path to partnership for me. Being in Fort Worth also provided me with an opportunity to grow a banking practice here that we don't currently have. It allowed me to really play towards some of my strengths, and it also really is pushing me outside of my comfort zone in many ways. For me, while relocating did accelerate it, it was not the main factor in why I chose to relocate to Fort Worth.

AGH: That's a great point. It's funny, I was just having this conversation with someone earlier today, and it's funny that you say that, it's about having that blank canvas and being able to vision out what the possibility of something could be. For many, that's the scariest thing in the world and they run a 100 miles. For others, I’m much like you, just embracing it and really just seeing where it can take you. I love that. Great point there.

We're talking about Women's History Month, so what are some of the challenges and barriers that you faced in your path to partner and how did you work through those?

Ashley Ensley with her familyAE: Sure. I think of my career, when I look back at it, of being in spaces. What I didn't know maybe at the time that I was in a certain stage of my career, was that I needed to give a little bit more to DHG and DHG needed me to be there, or work a little bit more, or travel a little bit more to fill a need.

Then there were other times when I knew that I needed to be at home a little bit more, and I needed to not necessarily take a step back, but maybe change my role in one way or another so I could give more to my personal life. During those times, I needed to know when to say yes to opportunities and when to say no. What was great for me was during those times I was fully supported by the firm.

When I was asked about an opportunity, if the answer was, “I'm not sure this is the right time for me.” Leadership always said, “We understand.” Just because I said not right now, it didn't necessarily mean don't come back to me. There were opportunities down the road, and I did take those opportunities. For me, personally, it was really hard when I had two young kids under the age of three in my home. I felt a lot of this mom guilt that you hear people talking about. Putting my career ahead of my family, or putting my family ahead of my career today. There's no magic answer to how we make that work. I think it's different for every person at the firm, but I never felt any pressure from the firm. I've never felt that if I needed to take a little time of my own that I couldn’t do that. I've had a very rewarding career and I think I'm doing a pretty good job as a mom. It all came together.

AGH: I know. We all just do the best we can every single day.

AE: That’s right. That’s right. 

AGH: I had one of those weeks last week when my daughter had strep throat and I had a three-hour meeting. I mean, I had to be there. We do what we can. I tried to occupy her with some movies while I was on Zoom video conferencing in, and every now and then, she popped her head up and everybody laughed.

AE: Yeah, we do what we have to do.

AGH: I know. There is that guilt. Should I have been holding her and consoling her? Should I have sent her to her grandmother's so I could focus on work? Every day, you just do what you can.

AE: But you got it done and everyone's great now.

AGH: Yes, exactly. Everybody seems to be happy, at least for now. Okay, is there someone in mind who served as a mentor, or sponsor for you in your career to help guide you along the career path?

AE: There have been a lot of people who have helped me through all these spaces. I know you asked for one, but I’m actually going to mention two, because there are two who played different roles for me. One of them being Heather Cozart, who is a partner in our Raleigh office. I think Heather is a great example of a professional who is doing amazing things here at the firm, but also as a mother. You know Heather goes out and is on the lacrosse field with her daughter Paige, cheering her on and supporting her, but yet, working extremely hard here at the firm too.

I don't know that there's anything such as work-life balance, but I do think they can be integrated really well with one another. I've always looked up to Heather as a role model in that regard. I go to her and I talk to her about things that I've got going on when it comes to being a working professional and a mother.

If you’ve ever talked to me before, you know this, but Will Neeriemer has just been so instrumental in my career. Will and I started together in the Asheville office. He was actually assigned as my mentor. Back then, we had a formal mentor program where they assigned you a mentor or a coach. On my first day, Will became my mentor. 13 years later, I will still say Will is my number one cheerleader and advocate in the firm. He has helped me so much. I'm going to point out the obvious, in that Will isn’t a female. Will is a partner in the firm and has been nothing but supportive of me through all of my phases of life, and he helped push me towards opportunities that he knew were going to really stretch me. He has also said, “You know what Ashley, I'm just not sure that opportunity is the right one for you.” Has always been an advocate for me and really instrumental in my success.

AGH: Those are great examples. I love that you chose both a female and a male, because everybody has both who influence their career. My last question for you, for someone who's just beginning their career, what's a key piece of advice that you would offer them?

AE: Mike Crawford actually gave me this advice quite a few years ago. It is that being here at the firm, or any time in your career, it's really more of a marathon, not a sprint. Public accounting is very rewarding. My advice would be to take it each step at a time, take each milestone in stride. Work hard, be kind, and at the end of the day, it's all going to work out the way it should.

AGH: That is great advice. Thank you so much and thanks for taking time out during a busy time of year to talk.

AE: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

AGH: One last question off script.

AE: Yes.

AGH: Are you still a Tar Heel, or have you become a Texan?

AE: That's pretty tough, but I will say, Texas has been very welcoming to us and we really love it here.

AGH: That’s a good answer. Very politically correct. All right, thank you, and thank you everyone 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 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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