A balancing act: Family and career path

Finding balance between spending time with family and pursuing dreams is something most must do. Sometimes it just comes down to finding the right workplace.

On this episode of Women of Washington, hosts Gigi Schumm and Aileen Black spoke with Alexandra (Lexy) Kessler, partner in charge of Aronson LLC, a government contract services group.

Kessler said her mother was the first female in their family to go to college, and that alone was enough to inspire her. But she said she is also thankful that her mother trained her from a young age to not be financially dependent on somebody else, but to be able to be self-reliant.

“I wanted to prove to myself [that] I could support myself on my own and didn’t have to be with somebody to do that  …  so it really drove me,” he said.

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When asked what led her to major in accounting at the University of Maryland, Kessler said she was just naturally good at math. She also took an accounting/bookkeeping class in high school. Getting a job doing something she was good at would help to prove to her mother that she could provide for herself.

She considered pursuing marketing for a short time, but felt that it was a little more terrifying, especially when it came to keeping track of sales. She decided to take the “easier” road.

“The other piece … I think has helped me so much in what I do, because accounting really is a people businesses, [is the] natural affinity I had for math and it just kind of converged into that,” she said about her decision to jump in accountancy.

Kessler filled the electives she had on the side of her business classes with American studies because of her interest in understanding people around her. This has helped to provide that human connection she has with her clients.

“I found it just so interesting, just the different cultures even within the United States … the different subcultures that exist,” she said. “So, I think that helps me in relating with people.”

Every career comes with victories, and unfortunately, challenges. Kessler said being a woman in her field wasn’t always easy early on.

“Public accounting [is a] very demanding profession,” Kessler said. “The biggest challenge that I had to overcome was just beginning to be acceptable for women to have alternative work arrangements. It was progressive for a firm to begin to do that.”

How did she find balance? She felt worked to the bone, and at times, wished she worked shorter or fewer hours. She needed flexibility to raise her children and spend time with her husband, and that is what her current firm offered her.

“I was very fortunate to find a firm that I could do it,” she said of working her family life into her career hours. “But the reality is I worked pretty close to those [partner-level] hours because I was passionate about what I did. I just made it a bigger hurdle than it needed to be.”

Finding balance was a lot simpler at Aronson because the firm was run by both a male founding partner and a female that she looked up to.

She was inspired by the partners and realized that she was selling herself short by not becoming one herself. So one day she made the decision to improve her position at the firm.

“I came to the realization that I love my clients and that’s why I do what I do. I love the people that I work with,” she said.

It took about three to four years before Kessler became a partner and she said it was one of the best decisions she made for herself, and didn’t rely on anyone else to push her in that direction.

“I kind of figured it out on my own and you know what, I had to be the one to figure it out,” she said. “It couldn’t be somebody telling me … you have to be comfortable with it because it’s a commitment.”