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Path to Partner: JoAnna Simek

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BKDer JoAnna Simek reflects on the steps she took to reach where she is today.

JoAnna Simek’s path to partner began right after college when she moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago. She spent three years in tax consulting, where she traveled to client sites and focused on sales tax until eventually, she was ready for something different.

Path to Partner

JoAnna’s work view of Millennium Park from the BKD Chicago office.

“I ended up at Wolf & Company, which was a leap of faith because I was already on a rapid advancement track at my old firm, and making this change meant taking a step back to learn things I hadn’t yet been exposed to,” says JoAnna.  

While at Wolf, JoAnna gained broader tax knowledge and went back to school in the evenings to earn her MST. Her superiors recognized her hard work and promoted her to manager. Then in 2014, Wolf merged with BKD. 

“Suddenly, there was an entire world of additional opportunities before me. I hadn’t considered there could be so many more positions at the ‘partner’ level, so that was really exciting,” she says. 

JoAnna had both of her children while at BKD and is grateful for the firm’s support of her maternity leave as well as return to work. The firm provided the flexibility she needed to accommodate her growing family and changing demands on her own time.

She was later at a career crossroads when deciding whether to determine a specialty area or stay the course in federal tax. While this challenged her vision for the future and meant having some uncomfortable but critical conversations, she had a phenomenal sponsor with the SKY Sponsor-Protégé program to offer guidance along the way.

JoAnna’s advice to women looking to advance in their careers:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of advocates and allies! You need someone advocating for you behind closed doors or in conversations where you aren’t present. Don’t assume that because you work hard that someone will notice. Having influential people in your corner is critical to moving up. 
  • Speak up for yourself and your goals. You don’t have to be the most vocal person in the room, but you should make your voice heard and your goals known to those who can impact your career trajectory. Say it once. Say it again. Say it until it happens. 
  • Support each other. Support the women around you, behind you, and above you. They could be your biggest champions and network throughout the years.

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