How a CPA approaches work-life balance: Kathy Howarth

CPA Kathy Howarth shares how she achieves a positive work-life balance.

  • Title: CFO
  • Organization: Wesgroup Properties, Vancouver
  • Location: Vancouver
  • Year joined: 2006
  • University grad year: 1994 and 1996
  • Designation year: 2000

"Work-life balance is not about the number of hours you work. It's about being able to feel fulfilled and in control of the most important areas of your life," says Wesgroup Properties CFO Kathy Howarth. "When I start feeling out of control, I stop, assess and correct."

The 36-year-old married mom of two and financial leader at a family-owned company that acquires, develops and manages real estate does seem to have it all figured out. "A good friend of mine talks about how an airplane's chosen path may be a straight line, but as it flies, it is constantly correcting and coming back to that line," she says. "To me, that's what balancing work and family is like. If I have to miss a few of the kids' bedtimes, I'll work less the next week. That week, I may not get as much accomplished at work, so the next week..."

It helps that husband Lee, a personal investment advisor, works close to home and is able to help with five-year-old Tyler and three-year-old Jenna. And when Howarth started working at Wesgroup, the couple hired a nanny.

"Generally, I try to be organized so that I don't spend a lot of time on household errands,” says the Nova Scotia native who attended Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, then got her Masters in Science at the University of Victoria in B.C.

"I have an Excel grocery list — I'm such an accounting geek," she laughs. "I do as many things as I can online — Christmas shopping, sometimes grocery shopping." She keeps a calendar for school days so library books get returned, and Tyler doesn't miss another "pyjama" day. "You only do that once," says the mom — "talk about mother guilt!"

She says this career has worked well in terms of flexibility, but that was luck rather than planning. It does seem, however, that she is particularly adept at managing her flight plan. After five years with Ernst & Young and earning her designation in 2000, she jumped into industry focusing on real estate. After Jenna was born, she joined Wesgroup where she could work 40 to 45 hours in a four-day week. "I don't pay much attention to the hours. I meet my responsibilities and benefit from having a challenging job that I can balance with my family. I often do work from home in the evenings and on weekends." She credits the entire Wesgroup staff with supporting her work style.

Last Halloween, she took a morning off to go to a pumpkin patch with her daughter. "When the trip was over, I exchanged rubber boots for heels and headed to the office. Usually, I arrive between 6:15 and 7. I try to leave by 4:30." On Thursdays, she takes her daughter to pre-school and volunteers at her son's class.

"I'm getting better at focusing on the kids when I'm with them. I used to check emails or try to get things done during my day with them. Now, I try to concentrate on them."

Then, there are evening Pilates classes and a parenting course, plus Lee's soccer games and training sessions for a cycling fundraiser. Weekends are for swimming lessons and family fun. They go to Nova Scotia once a year; a colleague backs her up.

"If you're planning a family," she advises, "just recognize that things will change and continue to change. You've chosen a career with built-in flexibility and marketability. Remember that and take advantage of it so you really find the balance that's right for you."

- Lorie Murdoch