The Reluctant Radical
Boundary Spanner Puts Civil Rights Act to the Test
Retired KPMG partner Terry Iannaconi, MBA ’78, did not start her career looking for a fight. As a new college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, she just wanted a job in 1965.
Her grades earned her an interview with one of the Big Eight accounting firms at the time, but the hiring managers made a false assumption when they screened her resume.
“When they saw my name, they thought I was a man,” Iannaconi said. “They thought it was a great joke when they saw me.”
Rather than hiding their bias, the interviewers told her bluntly they did not hire women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was new, but the men laughed at Iannaconi and dared her to sue.
Instead, she found a job with a rival firm. Her career advanced until four or five months into her first pregnancy, when she no longer could hide the expected childbirth from her employer. “It was a scary thing,” she said.
Like the hiring managers at Arthur Andersen, her boss made another false assumption. “I presume you will be leaving the firm,” he told her.
Iannaconi refused to resign, so her boss set a date for her termination. This time she decided to fight back. She contacted a civil rights office and told her employer to expect litigation.
The threat worked, and Iannaconi managed to keep her job. Despite the small victory, gender remained a factor as Iannaconi worked her way into senior leadership roles.
“We were singled out for attention because we were women,” she said. “It was a horrible issue at the time.”
Women have made strides since 1965, but Iannaconi said challenges remain. “You still see board rooms with only one or two women,” she said.
Iannaconi has responded with a record of results in her professional and personal life. Prior to joining KPMG in 1995, she worked as an SEC regulator for 19 years. At home she raised three children and now has four grandchildren. She made time for summer vacations, youth swim practices, Girl Scouts and other family activities. “I feel like I had it all,” she said.
Since her retirement in May 2014, she has volunteered at a poverty law center while finishing a Georgetown law degree. She will be almost 73 when she graduates in 2016, but she has no plans to slow down. “I have been given a lot of gifts in life,” she says. “I am happy to give back.”
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