Karen Auclair joined the Pittsburgh office of PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2004 for the opportunity to be a partner assigned to work with one of the accounting firm's major clients, U.S. Steel Corp.
Of 20 partners in the firm's Pittsburgh office, she is the only woman -- a statistic she and other officials at Pricewaterhouse acknowledge is way below what the firm hopes to achieve in terms of placing women in significant roles.
Among the firm's efforts to expand their ranks of female partners and managers is the Women's Networking Circle, which provides women and men support in charting their careers and finding a balance between work and home life.
Ms. Auclair helped launch the networking circle when she worked in the Los Angeles office of Pricewaterhouse, where she was one of 15 female partners out of 60 total.
Last week, she welcomed an audience of about 150 to the networking circle's first major event in Pittsburgh: a panel discussion featuring five prominent female business leaders who discussed how they'd battled on-the-job obstacles of being a woman and how they'd juggled careers and family.
"Fifty percent or more [hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers] annually are women, but women are leaving at a faster rate than men," Ms. Auclair said. "So we created the Women's Networking Circle to help women manage their career and life."
Moderator of the discussion at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, was Joanne McDonough, a director in PricewaterhouseCooper's office of diversity and leader of the firm's networking circles. Based in McLean, Va., Ms. McDonough is a mother of two who works a flexible schedule to accommodate family demands.
All of the panel members also are working mothers: Gretchen Haggerty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, U.S. Steel Corp.; Dawne Hickton, vice chairman and chief executive officer, RTI International Metals; Deborah Moon, vice president and chief financial officer, Carnegie Mellon University; Kimberly Wakim, partner and group leader of the bankruptcy and financial restructuring practice at law firm Thorp Reed & Armstrong; and Donna Lee Walker, vice president, tax administration, PPG Industries.
"It isn't that easy; it's all about choices," said Ms. Walker, who admitted to screaming to herself in her car while driving to work to relieve the stress of balancing the demands of raising a son, work commitments and her volunteer activities.
"Sometimes you have a really good career opportunity, and you give up a little family time or a hobby you like. Or you say to a career opportunity, 'I don't want to travel that much.' It's different for all of us."
Ms. Hickton, a mother of six who started her career as a corporate attorney at U.S. Steel, then known as USX Corp., conceded that her job requires sacrifice.
"I average four to five hours of sleep a night ... and don't exercise as much as I like or read the latest, greatest novel as often as I like." She encouraged professionals who faced conflicts between job and home to approach their bosses and find ways to resolve the issues.
For example, early in her career at USX, Ms. Hickton said she was offered an assignment that would require her to be out of town for six months. At the time she had two children ages 4 and 2. "I went to my boss and said I would do it and would be taking the nanny and the kids with me. Not only did he say that was a great idea, he said the company was going to pay for it."
Joyce Gannon can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1580.