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NextGen Magazine

 
 

Master Class

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jan 2, 2014

1. DO WHAT YOU LOVE, NO MATTER WHAT

Pendergast began her career path in the 1960s, after taking accounting classes at the University of Albany. But in those days, the “glass ceiling” was more like concrete, with women largely confined to roles “as either secretaries or, if they were lucky, a teacher or nurse.” Becoming a CPA, she said, was practically unheard of—at the time, girls simply didn’t go into accounting. Pendergast didn’t get any warm-hearted encouragement from her college professors. “More than one said, ‘There’s no sense of you [pursuing] this because they don’t let women do that,’” she recalled. She did, however, have parents who’d always told her that if she worked hard, she could do whatever she wanted, and, more importantly, a role model in her mother.  “My mother always worked when my sisters and I were growing up. Because of her, I never questioned that I couldn’t do something—I just did it.”  Pendergast completed her education and taught school while applying for jobs at accounting firms. Two years later, she was hired as an auditor at what would eventually become UHY LLP, a firm she works for to this day. The year was 1966, and out of the 25 people at her firm, two of the partners were women. Since then, she has worked in numerous areas within the profession, after becoming an audit partner in 1974. “My goal was to have a job to support my family and do something I liked to do,” she said.  “That’s important, because you’re going to be working for a long time.” 

2. UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES, AND FIND PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN YOU

For Pendergast, it was important to realize that she shouldn’t be shy about asking questions, and that she also shouldn’t obsess over her mistakes. Everyone makes them when they’re starting out, she said; for example, she once found that she’d made a mistake on a tax form a year after she had filed it. What’s important, she said, is to recognize and learn from those errors. Also a huge plus—finding someone within the profession who can serve as a mentor.  Pendergast said that having the support of good people within her company helped her to ignore naysayers who “absolutely would not have a woman in their place of business, period.”

3. AIM TO BE WELL ROUNDED

Though top-notch accounting skills helped her up the ladder, Pendergast found that it was just as important to have a wide base of knowledge outside her specialty. “You never know what information will be useful later on,” she said. For example, while she hadn’t been involved in international accounting, she’d made it a point to stay on top of developments in that area, foresight that, she said, has paid off now, given that convergence— efforts by standards setters to develop unified international accounting standards—and an increased emphasis on International Financial Reporting Language are under way. “You have to know about other things besides tax and accounting,” she said. “You don’t have to be an expert, but you do have to have an awareness of what’s going on.”