12/17/2014 10:45 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Harriet Greenberg, Partner at Friedman LLP

Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP since 1985, has over 30 years of experience working primarily with distribution and manufacturing companies. She provides accounting, tax, and business consulting services to help public and privately held companies increase efficiency and enhance profitability. She has worked on initial public offerings, reverse mergers, ESOP transactions and significant acquisitions. Harriet is a member of the firm's Management Committee and the leader of the Women's Development Network. She received a B.S. in Accounting from Brooklyn College and is licensed as a Certified Public Accountant in New York. Harriet is a Mom to two successful and grown sons; she and her husband Scott live in New York City.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents emigrated to this country from Poland and spoke very little English and had a limited understanding of the ways kids are raised in New York. I vividly recall wanting to play softball in our local Kings Bay league as others at school were doing. My mom was not capable of filing out registration forms or conversing with the staff. So at age 8, I went by myself and registered for softball. While an education was encouraged, they had little knowledge of the mechanics of the US systems, like taking the SAT's or filing out college applications. Again, it was up to me to figure it out. Growing up in my household made me competent and independent, important leadership skills, but also made me realize that there are obstacles that people face that aren't always obvious, which makes me tolerant.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Friedman?
My first accounting position was at Clarence Rainess, a CPA firm with a specialty in the Apparel/ Textile industry. The contacts I met there plus at my next position at Main Hurdman were the basis for me being the Apparel practice leader at Friedman LLP.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Friedman?
When I joined Friedman LLP in 1981, the firm had 20 accountants. Our firm now boasts approximately 400 people. This rapid growth has provided me with an ability to grow professionally as well. I became a partner in 1985 and a member of the firm's Management Committee in 2010. Challenges have been both personal and professional. I've raised two children with a husband who traveled for his job, while working in a challenging environment before work/life balance was fashionable. Professionally, I navigated without woman role models.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking for a career in accounting?
It's a great career that offers upward mobility and uses skill sets that many women possess. Empathy for concerns of client's and staff and a woman's ability to work collaboratively are important for an accounting career.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
While my kids were growing up, I was able through the support of Friedman LLP Management to work a flexible schedule of 4 longer days Monday-Thursday with Fridays from home. Those Fridays were critical for me as I could schedule my kid's activities, drive carpool or just bond with my family. We developed Friday routine like dinner out. My firm now offers summer Fridays off to the whole staff, which has been a terrific staff retention item. Now, with technology, I can work virtually anywhere, which gives me an ability to spend time with my husband at the shore, something that I love to do.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think that women leave the workplace because of difficulty coping with family issues such as childcare and aging parents. Women are still the primary caregivers in most families and the one most likely to give up or put their career on hold. A proud moment for me was a staff member who told me that I changed her life by telling her to ask for what she needs. She's now able to work a modified schedule without compromising her needs. The biggest issue causing women not to advance in their careers is a lack of skills for dealing with opportunities and conflict. Women are not used to asking for what they want, asking first and taking risks. They also tend to take confrontation personally. Men generally know these things. Women need to be taught.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been huge for me. Very early in my career, a partner recognized my abilities and mentored me. His insight with soft skills and dealing in a male-dominated business world were critical to my growth and success. I'm now a mentor to many women in my firm and am formally mentoring two male staff mentors in our Rainmaker Academy program.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Queen Elizabeth, mother to four and ruling an empire. Doesn't get more complicated than that!

What do you want Friedman to accomplish in the next year?
Our Women's Development Network will be in its third full year. I'm hoping to tackle some challenging issues like emergency childcare and flex time. Also, I would like to enable our women to be confident networkers.