While almost 60% of accounting graduates are women, this statistic does not translate when it comes to the amount of women in accounting firm leadership positions. Just under 20% of firm leaders are women.
At this year’s Xerocon in San Francisco I sat down with an all-female panel of leaders to discuss the challenges faced by professional women in 2016 and why it is so important to have women in the accounting and finance industry.
The disconnect in female leadership
I was joined by Ingrid Vanderveldt, the Founder and Chairman of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW2020). Ingrid was the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell where she oversaw entrepreneurial initiatives worldwide. Ingrid said while the success of women in accounting is important to the individual, it also has a broader purpose.
“Your success is so unbelievably important, not only to the profession, but to the women out there that you serve,” Ingrid said.
Ingrid said when she founded EBW2020’s grant program, only men applied. She developed the understanding that the disconnect in female leadership comes from a lack of confidence.
“We can solve the confidence issue when we take action and we can take action when we have mentorship,” Ingrid said.
She says women developing confidence comes from a “fake it till you make it” disposition.
Building on the women that come before
Lisa Cines also joined me onstage, she joined her first firm in 1982 and later went on to become its first female partner. With more than 30 years of public accounting experience, she is now the Regional Partner in Charge of Business Development and Marketing at Dixon Hughes Goodman.
Lisa said when she joined the firm there were not many women that had come before her.
“There were no maternity benefits,” Lisa said. “They didn’t really didn’t know what to do with me.”
Lisa added that it’s incredible what Xero is doing for women in the accounting profession, as the software gives them the flexibility they need when dynamics in their personal life change. Over her many years in the industry, she learned what does and doesn’t work.
“The first thing I learned was knowing myself personally and professionally,” Lisa said. “My husband has been a true partner in this journey. I learned I actually had to ask what I wanted from him.”
“It’s about finding great teammates and collaborators, both men and women. From day one I was fortunate enough to work with some gentlemen that became great mentors.”
Diverse thought makes businesses smarter
Joanne Cleaver also joined us onstage. Joanne is President of communications firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc. She heads the Accounting MOVE project, which studies the demographics of CPA firms and questions them on how they remove barriers to the advancement of women.
She said having a diverse staff means having diverse ideas. Having women in leadership positions means a unique perspective.
“Being a woman shapes your experience in business,” Joanne said. “The more types of thinking we have the smarter we are going to be together.”
We wrapped up the discussion by acknowledging that women looking to lead need to look for where the growth opportunities are and go for it. All agreeing that the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t happen.