Maria Castañon Moats had many sponsors who believed in her as she climbed the ladder in her career.
Moats, a line partner and Chief Diversity Officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, No. 3 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, shares her experiences and work-life challenges in this Q&A:
Were you identified as a high potential early in your career and, if so, how did that change your career trajectory?
Early in my career we didn’t have a formal system for identifying high potential talent. However, during my first five years as partner at PwC, I was fortunate to have a business unit lead tell me I was high potential and he would be my sponsor.
I remember he told me, “I’m part of your team, and as opportunities come your way I will help you evaluate them.” He actually went a step further and declined some opportunities on my behalf, explaining to others why it was not the right move for me. I will always be grateful for that support.
Why did the business head make that decision? What did you do to be noticed?
My first few years as a partner I focused on excelling at client service. In other words, I focused on my craft, which is my advice to new partners. Once you are recognized as very good at what you do, opportunities to take on more challenging clients and assignments will come your way.
Were there female role models and mentors available to you early in your career?
Yes, there was a female Audit partner who served as PwC’s CFO. Although I never worked for her, she always looked after my career. I can think of opportunities – both client engagements and internal roles – that came my way because she advocated for me and told others they needed to consider me. If I were to trace back the great opportunities I’ve had, many of them would lead back to her.
Why did the CFO look after you? What made you – and this relationship – strong?
One of the most important things to remember about connecting with a mentor or sponsor is that has to be a two-way relationship. You benefit by learning from their experiences, but you also have an opportunity to make that person look good as a leader. That may mean by performing well when he or she recommends you for a project, or offering innovative ideas and insights. We all have something to offer – you just have to figure out what value you’re bringing to the table.
Tell us about the two most effective mentors you had (male or female) and what they taught you.
The first person who comes to mind is the female partner I just mentioned. She told me that my sponsors weren’t always dreaming big enough for me.
Now that I sponsor others, I try to think two steps ahead and dream big for them based upon their talents.
I also learned about work-life balance from a male sponsor. He would make it a point to pack up his bags at 4:45pm every night so he could have dinner with his family. He made it possible for me to believe I could be a partner and have a life.
What was the greatest challenge in your career when you were in your ‘30s and ‘40s?
One of the hardest decisions at that point in my career was to leave Texas. Leaving a market in which I had a lot of support and I had made partner was huge because I didn’t know anyone in New York.
Before I made the decision to move, I used my sponsors to think through the opportunity, as well as what were the next two moves after that. I didn’t want to move my whole family – which at the time included my husband and our son.
I remember at an office event shortly before I left for New York people kept asking when I would be coming back to Texas and one of the partners stepped in and said I was going on a journey and we don’t know where it will lead. And she was so right!
How have you balanced personal responsibilities with your career needs?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest considerations when I’m considering an opportunity is whether it is right for my little family unit, which has grown to include our daughter since we left Texas.
For example, I’m currently serving a client that is not in the New York Metro area and we decided I would commute so our son could have the stability of staying at his school. Because I travel a lot, I make sure that we do dinner and a movie as a family every Friday night and I don’t work on weekends unless there is a critical deadline. When I am in town, I try to follow in the footsteps of the male partner I mentioned earlier and leave in time to make it home for dinner.
What were your “non-negotiables”?
For me, the biggest non-negotiable has always been family. Early in my career, I wanted to stay in Texas near my parents and my siblings. Later, it was about my husband and our children.
I also think you need to know what your values and interests are, because you’re more likely to succeed if you’re pursuing a passion.
What lessons and advice do you have for young women just starting out?
You need to be very honest with yourself and determine what you need outside of work to make yourself successful at work. If you compromise too much, you won’t be happy. Figure out what those non-negotiables are and make sure your career is compatible. You also need to communicate them to your managers. Don’t expect them to guess the complicated reasons why you are not happy at work.
It’s also important to allow yourself to make mistakes. Even if you think something didn’t work, don’t think you need to quit. I think as women we are often too self-critical. Talk to those around you about what happened, use it as an opportunity for development and move forward.
What keeps you up at night?
I actually sleep very well at night. I work hard during the day and I’m not too self-critical. I recognize I’m not perfect, and use mistakes as an opportunity for improvement and move on.
I believe it’s critical you get a good night’s sleep in order to be effective the next day. This is especially important because your clients and team members will expect you to have the clarity of mind to make those important decisions.
On a lighter note, what do you do for fun?
I spend a lot of time playing with my kids. With my daughter, it’s pretending to be fairies. With my son, it’s riding bikes. And my husband and I like to sit outside and stare at the stars after the kids go to bed.