The Balancing Act of Miri Yoskowitz, Partner at KPMG

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The women of Sy Syms School of Business and Stern College for Women had the pleasure of meeting Miri Yoskowitz, partner at KPMG Israel, on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, for a breakfast meeting about how to balance work, faith, family and fun.

Miri Yoskowitz (center left) with Michael Strauss, associate dean of the Sy Syms School of Business (center right) and students

According to a recent article in Mispacha, Yoskowitz studied accounting at Bais Yaakov, became a CPA and began her accounting career at a small office in Jerusalem. About 15 years ago, she transitioned to KPMG, one of the global “big four” accounting firms, and in 2016, she was promoted to partnership. She now works as an audit partner in KPMG’s Jerusalem office, servicing global businesses and nonprofits.

In speaking about how to balance a person’s many competing interests, she laid out a few premises to help approach the challenge calmly and deliberately.

First, she reminded people that “for the most part,” she said with a laugh, “what we are doing does not involve life or death at the end of the day—we are not working as brain surgeons.” Second, be sure to take time for a break, which, as she put it, meant that a person should observe Shabbos even if he or she isn’t observant: “We all need time to reboot.” Third, be engaged with work that keeps you challenged: “If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will do it better and feel better about it.  You can’t push yourself to enjoy what you don’t enjoy doing.”

With these groundrules laid down, she spoke about what a person can do within a career to find a nourishing balance, though, as she pointed out, one has to make a constant effort to do this since the balance won’t appear on its own.

Miri Yoskowitz gestures to make a point about work/life balanceTo keep oneself challenged at work, find as many different teams and projects as possible that interest you and then, as she emphasized, “advocate for yourself to be part of them—no one else will.” Don’t hesitate to ask questions, especially in the first year— “they’ll give you the first year to ask anything”—and don’t be afraid to challenge something, even if it seems to be a settled question. This also means be ready to make mistakes and be equally ready to learn from them: “Always acknowledge your mistakes, and don’t make the same mistake twice!” Be adaptable and open-minded, but just as important “share ideas and listen—you can never be the know-it-all, and you will learn so much more if you listen.”

In response to a question about whether women in Israeli companies face resistance because of cultural and religious attitudes, she did acknowledge that such friction exists but added, “This is also partly a self-attitude thing. Women play very important roles in Israeli companies, and knowing this, you can’t let the word ‘woman’ limit you. Your best approach is to be confident and believe in what you’re doing.”

Another aspect of this friction is the special responsibility that observant Jewish people face to conform their actions in the modern secular workplace to the spiritual rules that govern their lives all day every day. “I have to show I’m a successful person who is confident,” she said, “but also a person who follows rules. We have an obligation to play it straight.”

As for pursuing a career in Israel, such as working for a company like KPMG, a person will have to make aliyah and learn Hebrew if he or she wants to reach the upper levels of managements, as she has.

How does she manage her own balancing act, with a husband and five children and a job in one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world? She described how, during a board meeting, she received a phone call that, of course, she could not take because she was in a board meeting. “So, the way that I think about it,” she said with a smile, “I have a ‘board meeting’ with my family at home, and when I am in a board meeting, I do not answer my phone or do my work.”