Women in Business: Navigating Power Dynamics, Work-Life Balance, & Company Culture

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WIB Pam and Alyssa

For Women’s History Month, we interviewed two extraordinary trailblazers in the financial services industry: Alyssa Jasiak, Tax Director at Tonneson + Co, and Pam Kuong, Senior Vice President & Market Director at Santander Bank.

Alyssa and Pam shared their personal experiences and walked us through how they navigated power dynamics, work-life balance, the impact of company culture on career growth, and more. 

We were able to learn about their career paths, and what made them successful, as they offer advice for women joining the workforce today. Now, let’s dive into their stories.


Were there any experiences outside your comfort zone that significantly contributed to your growth?

Alyssa: My first solo interaction with a client was very intimidating. Handling that call made me nervous, fearing a client might ask a question I simply didn’t know the answer to. However, I’ve learned it’s okay to follow up, be honest, and say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am willing to do more research and get back to you.”

Now, I am much more comfortable being the lead on calls and handling engagements independently. As with anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. The first time was definitely the scariest for me, but now that I’m past that, it’s been easier every single time.

Pam: I was asked to work with a gentleman who had a reputation for burning through people, being difficult to work with, and maintaining intense work hours. When I learned about the assignment, I expressed my hesitation to the manager, citing concerns based on horror stories I had heard.

However, the manager reassured me, stating that given my personality and the group dynamics, I was the right fit to handle him. Motivated by the prospect of engaging in more M&A transactions, I agreed to work with him. Surprisingly, we developed a strong rapport, enjoying our time together during frequent travels. It was a matter of understanding his personal life issues that contributed to work stress.

We got along well, and the manager was pleased to find someone who could collaborate effectively with him. We had three amazing years together until an acquisition concluded, marking the end of our collaboration. This experience taught me the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, even when initially reluctant.


How has networking played a role in your career advancement, and what strategies do you find effective in building professional relationships?

Alyssa: Just recently, I’ve started feeling more comfortable with attending and actively participating in events. I found it was really important to pair myself with someone in my company who would frequent them – I wanted to learn from them and see how they would work the room, or how they would just go up to someone and start a conversation. 

What helped me ease into networking was finding people around my similar career stage – it made things less intimidating, because those people were also likely open to building up their network as well. Once I got my footing there, I was then able to approach more people of various backgrounds and experience.

It’s a great way to be able to meet new people, share resources, and in a way, move up together. 

Pam: Networking holds significant importance for me at this point, primarily because banking is, to some extent, a commodity. What I bring to clients is my network.

As I meet clients, I discover their needs, whether it’s for a reliable insurance person, a good CPA, or an M&A advisor. They trust my referrals because I only recommend those I trust and have worked with. Similarly, if they have the opportunity, they refer me. I do believe in doing favors without expecting anything in return though, as it’s just the right thing to do.

Without extensive networking efforts, attending numerous breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I wouldn’t have the network I currently possess. Building a strong network takes time, dedication, and active participation in various events over the years. It’s an investment that requires commitment.


How do you navigate power dynamics, both within your organization and in client interactions, to ensure your voice is heard and respected?

Alyssa: It’s crucial, first and foremost, to work at a company that genuinely values and respects your opinion. Taking pride in your work becomes challenging when you’re in an environment that doesn’t appreciate you as an individual. If you’re ever in a situation where you feel unheard or disrespected within your organization, consider initiating a polite conversation. Express your feelings, and explore ways to collaboratively make positive changes moving forward. It’s essential to be able to articulate your opinions and express your feelings for mutual understanding.

I consider myself fortunate to work at Tonneson, where everyone’s opinions are valued and respected. Employees are highly encouraged to contribute their insights on various situations.

Pam: That really comes from the top down, right? In internal meetings, I contribute when I feel I have something valuable to add. I won’t contribute just to be heard, as people quickly discern who’s genuine and who’s not. If I don’t have something valuable to contribute, I choose not to add anything.

Externally, it’s all about doing your homework. Before attending an event, especially in a specific industry, read up on the industry and the company, and stay informed about the latest news. This approach helps make your interactions more relevant. For example, when going to a networking event, quickly review highlights of what’s happening in the economy or any relevant topic. This way, you can engage in discussions that are pertinent to the event you’re attending.

I believe in being well-prepared, whether it’s for internal or external meetings. Just know enough to be dangerous.


Balancing work and personal life can be challenging. How have you managed to achieve a balance, if at all?

Alyssa: This is a tough one, but it has evolved over the years. Luckily for me, Tonneson is incredibly understanding that I’m a mom first, and an employee second. My kids and family always come first. I was able to set these expectations right away, making it clear that I’ll be away from my computer from around four until the kids are in bed, and then I log back on afterward. Setting these expectations with your employer is crucial.

During tax season, it becomes a bit harder to juggle the long hours with little children who only want Mom, causing occasional stress. However, I’m fortunate to have an enormous support system, especially from my sisters and parents, who are always there to help when needed.

I’ve also started doing a “reset” with my son. When he gets a bit rambunctious or annoying to his sister, I ask him if he needs a reset. I find this concept applicable to myself as well. If I’m stressed at work and then have the kids to take care of, ensuring you can reset yourself is crucial. Stepping away from the computer, taking a walk, or doing something for yourself helps bring you back to a baseline level, preventing overwhelming stress and maintaining productivity.

Pam: What comes to mind is a time I had been asked by an executive to become a manager of a group. When I expressed my hesitation, mentioning my desire to continue pursuing amateur golf, he assured me it was fine, knowing about my passion. Even with the permission of the senior manager, I realized it might not sit well with the employees and colleagues underneath. Facing this dilemma, I had to make a decision. I didn’t want to take on something feeling it might not work out.

Someone shared a great saying with me: “You can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything.” So, for me, it meant making choices. I didn’t feel I could do both to the best of my ability; one would have to suffer, and it would likely be my golf, not the job. Considering what would make me happy, I concluded that it was essential to do things that bring happiness. 

I learned the importance of saying no to avoid overcommitting. Previously, I used to say yes to everything, both at work and personally, resulting in an unmanageable situation. Being more selective about what I agree to has been beneficial.


What role does company culture play in supporting career progression, and how can organizations create more inclusive environments?

Alyssa: Company culture plays a huge role in how successful somebody is. For instance, a firm claiming to be female-empowered needs tangible support to back that up. At Tonneson, numerous women serve as role models, managing successful careers alongside family responsibilities and extracurricular activities. They’ve achieved Partner status and overall success.

This success reflects the management’s understanding, respect, and value for employees who balance career and family. While the career is a priority, recognizing other responsibilities is crucial. Employees won’t feel empowered or able to perform to their fullest potential in a company lacking an inclusive work environment. Therefore, top executives must lead by example, prioritizing inclusivity and setting the tone for an inclusive firm.

Pam: I think it was Jack Walsh who said, “Culture eats strategy.” Without a good culture, a company can’t be successful. This is especially crucial in a CPA firm where, given the graduation rates of accounting majors, adaptation and flexibility are necessary. Your firm [Tonneson] has done a wonderful job in this regard.

I agree with Alyssa that it’s not only about talking the talk; it has to walk the walk. Examining whether there is diverse senior management in the higher ranks is essential. If there aren’t, and they talk about inclusivity, it’s necessary to question where that inclusivity is reflected.

Companies need to prove and demonstrate inclusivity by showcasing diversity at the leadership level. Since people spend a significant amount of time at work, creating an enjoyable atmosphere is crucial for employee retention and loyalty. Otherwise, employees may leave, and the cost of training new personnel far exceeds that of retaining existing employees.


What advice would you give women entering the workforce today?

Alyssa: I would tell women entering the workforce to be brave, acknowledge the value you bring to what you do, and ask for what you want. If there’s a specific area of the job where you desire more experience, certain networking events to attend, or a committee at work that you wish to be more involved in, don’t hesitate to ask. The worst thing they can say is no.

It’s also crucial to start building your brand right away as well, encompassing not only your technical skills but also your essential soft skills. 

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. While it may not always be positive, constructive feedback is invaluable in helping you make the right changes in your career.

Pam: Well said, Alyssa. I think the other thing I would add is that they need to come in with a can-do positive attitude — a “give me a project, and I’ll get it done” mentality — because executives value individuals who take initiative. If you’re proactive, you’re more likely to be recognized.

I believe that putting in just 1 or 2 percent more effort will be noticeably beneficial. It doesn’t require a significant increase, just a little more effort to get noticed. As Alyssa noted, asking to volunteer and offering to organize events, whether it’s a volunteer event or a company reception, can make a significant impact on the company, and help you build your internal network.

This recognition, along with maintaining a positive attitude and avoiding negative water cooler talk, is crucial for differentiation. Associating yourself with positive, proactive individuals who want to contribute to the company’s success will be recognized and contribute to your growth within the organization.


Join the Conversation

Alyssa and Pam’s stories highlight the strength and resilience of women in business. Their stories hit upon a few important takeaways – that it’s okay to be intentional and selective for both your personal and professional life, and that no matter your circumstances or how you choose to navigate the corporate landscape, you can still pave your own way to success, you just need to take that leap of faith to get there. 

The story doesn’t have to end here – if you would like to be a part of the next conversation, whether it’s about being a woman in business, or another topic you feel passionate about, we would love to hear it. 

If interested, please reach out to our media contact, Mimi Pham, at Mimi.Pham@Tonneson.com.

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If you’re interested in working with Tonneson + Co, please reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you!