By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Becoming a partner in a time frame when it was not common for women to join the partnership is one of my proudest professional experiences,” said Sonja Barendregt-Roojers, a Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Accountants N.V. Barendregt-Roojers has, in fact, been with the firm since she was a teenager – beginning her career at one of PwC’s predecessor firms right after high school.
After graduating from Erasmus University Rotterdam and becoming a chartered accountant, Barendregt-Roojers stayed with the firm. After being named a partner in 1998, she became the Investment Management industry leader for the Netherlands and joined the European Investment Management Leadership team. In 2004, Barendregt-Roojers said she became chair of the Pension Funds industry group in the Netherlands and founded the International Pensions group.
As she has climbed the ladder at PwC, Barendregt-Roojers said one of the things she wishes she had learned earlier on was the differences in how men and women behave – inside and outside the workplace, “Men and women are different in certain ways. Because of my high school education, in a group with 30 boys and only 4 girls, I never noticed any difference, but in fact there are differences. Had I known them at that time, it could have given a boost to my career.”
Women in Leadership at PwC
As a member of PwC’s Gender Advisory Council, Barendregt-Roojers is keen to point out that professional women face challenges at the top. She said, “Reluctance at male boards to appoint women is one of the biggest challenges for women to overcome.”
PwC’s Gender Advisory Council was created in 2004 to ensure the firm maintains a more balanced level of women in leadership, and works to attract and develop talented women to the firm’s workforce. Sonja said that there has been significant grown in the kinds of programs PwC offers to help women get to the top.
She said, “At the time I became a partner we had none. Now we have female leadership programs, female coaching programs, and more.”
Advice for Professional Women
Barendregt-Roojers says that life for women in the professional services can be difficult. Accordingly, she said, women entering the industry must maintain a thick skin and not give up when things get hard.
She advised, “Try to be more loose. Do not take everything personally.”
Additionally, she said it is important to ensure you are enthusiastic about your work. Barendregt-Roojers explained, “I get the most energy from working with people, from clients as well as in my teams.”
As women move up in their careers, she said, it is important for them to build and maintain professional connections. She said, “Establish and manage your network. That will support you and is a big advantage.”
Finally, she added, “Don’t try to do everything yourself!”