To achieve career success and encourage an environment of workplace flexibility, Susan Jones emphasises the importance of being honest about the demands we face outside the office.
A partner in EY’s Auckland assurance practice, Jones is no stranger to the feelings of guilt many working parents feel as they juggle a fulfilling but demanding career with young children. But to get that balance and to ensure others around her get that balance, Jones says she makes it known when she has to make time for her family.
“At work, be honest about your other commitments,” Jones advises. “For instance, I might be leaving work early to go and do something with the kids and people will say to me, ‘Where are you going?’ Well I will always say what I’m going to do as opposed to saying I’ve got an appointment. Just saying I have an appointment doesn’t create an environment where it’s acceptable to do those things.
“If people trust you to do your job, then that’s all that should be important.”
Workplace flexibility is one of the key reasons Jones, a mother of two, has been able to stay with the company she joined over 20 years ago when she left university in 1991 as an accounting graduate.
Not quite knowing what direction to take following university, Jones started at EY as an intern at her father’s suggestion, who was a client of the firm at the time.
“When I went to university, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the time I was going through university, basically everyone that left with an accounting degree went into one of the big four,” she says. “There were points in my career early on, particularly when I qualified and I became a CA, I did think about whether I should go into industry and what I should do. I had an opportunity with work to go to New York for three months, which I did – and I loved it.”
Following her stint in New York Jones went to London for two years on EY’s global exchange program – a place she’d always wanted to go, as long as she was advancing her career at the same time. And once she started a family, the flexibility she was afforded at EY sealed the deal and saw her remain there for the rest of her career.
“I had such great support and I knew then. I had been at EY for a reasonable period of time and you gain a certain amount of trust and respect, which enabled me to have the flexibility I needed to get the balance I wanted,” she says. “As a result of that I’ve been passionate about staying here.”
The variety of her work – “no two days are the same” – and the opportunity to help develop and coach others coming up through the ranks is what Jones enjoys most about her day job, but while she’s always felt passionate about her career, her family comes first.
“For me my career has always, in a sense, come second to my family in that if it didn’t work with my family life, I don’t think I would have stuck in it as long as I have,” she says.
While family is the top priority for Jones, she also places great importance on maintaining her financial independence – a value she says was instilled by one of her inspirations: her mother.
“I never knew what was going to happen around the corner and therefore I wanted to be in a position where I could continue to support myself if something did happen, where I always had that independence,” she says.
And although she has maintained her independence, Jones credits the support of her husband who also has a flexible job which has helped them to make the juggle work, together.
Encouraged throughout her career by her mentor and fellow EY partner David Jackson to reach outside her comfort zone and grab opportunities she didn’t think she was capable of, Jones was made partner in December 2003 on the day her daughter was born. But aside from the influences of her mother and partners like Jackson, Jones credits her success to being herself.
“I haven’t tried to be someone I’m not and I’ve always felt that I’ve been true to myself and treated people in a way that I would like to be treated myself, whether that’s a client, staff or colleague,” she says.
Her other career advice is to have a great mentor, take opportunities even if you’re not sure you can do it and to seek feedback – both positive and constructive.
“My mentor David supported me, challenged me and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, which was quite important for me, but he also believed in what I could achieve and encouraged me to do that,” she says.
“Take opportunities like secondments to something new at work that you’re not quite sure you’re going to be able to do. Sometimes if you put yourself out there you’re quite surprised as to what you can do.”