Women Executives Tout Resilience and Leveraging Opportunities as Keys to Growth

By Kathleen Hoffelder, Senior Content Editor, NJCPA – November 4, 2020
Women Executives Tout Resilience and Leveraging Opportunities as Keys to Growth

Female executives in accounting and other industries have made great strides over the years, but to reach the corporate board or partner level and actually stay there requires resilience and the ability to leverage new opportunities, say speakers at the Women’s Leadership Conference on Oct. 27.

The webinar, organized by the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs (PICPA), featured speakers from accounting firms, industry and academia who discussed ways that female CPAs and accounting and finance professionals can strike a balance between grueling work schedules and family, keeping up on networking and career development.

Own Your Career

It’s important to have control over one’s career and agenda, according to Christina M. Reger, Esq., founding partner of the Law Offices of Christina Reger, and a speaker at the event. As she explained, often the best opportunities can come from rerouting one’s career. For example, instead of feeling stuck in an unsatisfying job, one can reroute to teaching or take that current role and make it into that dream job. “Own your own career. My passions today are the same as they were 25 to 30 years ago,” she said.  “When those passions are the same, the likes and dislikes are the same, but there are things that you learn about yourself over time, and sometimes you won’t learn them about yourself until you actually experience that.”

One’s life goals change when events change, such as getting married, having children, divorce, job termination or illness. A key point to consider, she said, is that the executive is not “abandoning ship” simply by switching course. Making a job work in the current lifestyle — with kids and/or other responsibilities — is just as important as the original goals, she maintained: “Where you reach those crossroads in your career, when you say, ‘Something doesn’t feel fulfilling’ is when to switch.” And the decision does not mean one has to abandon being an accountant, she added.

Women especially need to understand it’s acceptable to take career risks and not doubt those choices, she added, noting that “as women, we are our own worst critics. Women often stay in jobs that are safe, rather than take a leap in our career.” This should not be the case, she explained, since statistically, women make up 60 percent of the accounting profession today and earn more bachelor’s degrees than men.

Passing the Torch

Mentoring is important for anyone’s career, but it is perhaps a crucial component of career advancement for women. “If you are really happy with where you are working and you want to accelerate at the company, you probably want to find a mentor…if you are looking to get out of the industry you are in, it makes sense to find someone who can help you access a new network,” said speaker Fran Hauser, media executive and author of The Myth of the Nice Girl.

But when selecting a mentor, it’s best to have a good relationship with that mentor before you ask them for assistance. It’s not wise, she warned, to ask someone to be a mentor without having a relationship already; that must come first.

Being Resilient

As women move from entry level to management, and senior management to chief executive levels, their percentages decline precipitously, said speaker Kathleen Hamm, former member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). Indeed, Hamm noted that in the 2020 Fortune 500 List, only 37 out of the top 500 CEOs in the U.S. (7.4 percent) are women. Though those numbers are the highest they have ever been, that’s a telling sign that women need to be more represented, she said. Similarly, she refers to a 2017 American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) survey, which revealed that only 22 percent of CPA firm partners are women.

As Hamm explained, there are real impediments for women moving into management and seeking leadership roles. These include conscious and unconscious bias and structural issues with how families operate since women are so often the primary caretakers for children and aging parents. Amid COVID-19 challenges in particular, women are primarily responsible for overseeing their children’s remote education and are the main ones considering either reducing hours or leaving the workforce compared to men, she said. “Given the enormous challenges women face at home, it is not surprising that more mothers are considering this than fathers.”

And, women of color have an added burden with some inequities revealed from the pandemic, she added. “We are at an inflection point where we might potentially lose women leaders and future women leaders,” which, she noted, could undermine diversity and inclusion efforts at businesses and organizations.

What’s needed to assist women to remain in the workforce? More work flexibility, according to Hamm and others on the webinar. “We need businesses to accommodate family responsibility at workplaces and retain women and other employees who have been historically underrepresented.”