Community, authenticity, support: Women’s Summit lessons
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Community, authenticity, support: Women’s Summit lessons

26 days ago · 4 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

In its first in-person gathering since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit 2022 brought together women and advocates to engage, learn and participate in a variety of thought-provoking sessions. It aimed to enhance the careers of women in accounting and finance and create a more diverse and inclusive profession.

“The summit surpassed my expectations,” said Veda Stanley, CFE, a process/risk consulting manager based in North Carolina. “It was so good to have my soul fed by seeing dynamic and engaging speakers, delivering meaty and actionable content. And, being in person, connecting with old colleagues and making new friends.”

Throughout the three-day summit held in Miami, Florida, nearly 500 attendees, both in person and virtual, heard guidance on implementing women-centered programs and initiatives in their firms and organizations. They learned techniques for negotiation and navigating the corporate ladder; ideas on how to strengthen work-life balance with an emphasis on the importance of self-care; strategies to increase recruitment and retention of women in the workplace; and much more.

“It is important to remind women that they have the power to lead and lift each other up,” said session speaker Amy Vetter, CPA, and CEO of the B3 Method Institute. “Having common experiences in the workplace helps, so that women do not feel alone.”

Power in community

By fostering an inclusive and supportive community, the summit provides a platform to hear the stories of others and bond over common experiences. It can help women navigate their careers. “It definitely helps to have a group of people who are in your position, have been in your position, or want to be in your position, and you can feel comfortable talking about tough issues,” said Mandy Gallagher, Ph.D., lead manager of the Diversity & Inclusion Women’s Initiatives team at AICPA® & CIMA®, together as theAssociation of International Certified Professional Accountants®. Gallagher brought up the example of asking for a raise, which can be a hard topic for anyone to bring up — harder still for some women. By talking to others, learning from their experiences and gleaning their strategies, someone can feel more confident and prepared to have tough conversations and asking for higher compensation. In addition to creating a safe space for conversations and personal growth, forums such as the summit can help empower women in accounting to lead changes within the profession. “By creating a community of support, it changes the paradigm and the future of the profession,” explained Vetter, who was honored as part of AICPA® & CIMA® and CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting awards. “We are better together than on our own.”

Mindfulness opens opportunities to self-discovery

As a yogi, Vetter firmly believes in the power of mindfulness and self-discovery and how these attributes can be blended into a firm’s or organization’s culture.

In her session “Getting Back to Who You Are: Authenticity,” Vetter wanted attendees to mute the noises of the outside world, and instead dedicate time to self-exploration and empowerment.

“We can blame outside circumstances for our situations at work or personally, but taking the time to observe ourselves, our beliefs and where they came from can help us better align ourselves to the work we do,” Vetter said.

In this self-discovery space, individuals can figure out who they truly are and be their most authentic selves, Vetter said. Finding authenticity may require a rebrand or several rebrands, she said during her session, and it’s important to maintain personality and not revert back to what is more comfortable.

Self-discovery is also important on the path to leadership.

In the session “6 Steps to Becoming Your Own Leadership Coach,” speaker and award-winning digital and leadership executive Jennifer DiMotta, MA, discussed a 360-degree approach to leadership. Starting with a self-assessment can paint a clearer picture of personal strengths, emotional intelligence and favored attributes. Self-awareness, she said, is the most important quality for leaders to develop.“

We expect leaders to be emotionally intelligent, not productive,” DiMotta said in her session.

DiMotta has taken her C-suite and board-room level experiences and channeled them into her women-oriented leadership wellness program Uprisors.

The path to successful leadership starts with a vision. DiMotta discussed envisioning the “value you create” plus “who you are creating it for.” That, she said, will lead to the expected outcome. Small, attainable goals, an accountability partner, self-reflection and championing for others will all aid in the leadership journey.

“If you don’t put your interests out there, they won’t be fulfilled,” DiMotta said.

Increasing inclusivity through better balance

Demographics are shifting, and more women are entering the accounting and finance profession ― 51% of bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are women, according to the 2021 AICPA Trends Report. Strides have been made to increase diversity in the profession, said Gallagher, but continual work is needed to ensure that women who enter the profession have the necessary support and resources to make it to leadership level within their organizations, should they choose that path. “

How can we push the profession forward so that it is more welcoming and inclusive and allows people to really show up and be themselves in a work environment they’re proud to be a part of?” asked Gallagher.

Part of the answer, said Gallagher, is changing expectations that women need to be amazing in all aspects of their lives and that career progression is not solely dependent on the number of hours worked in a week.

“We need to understand that we have got to allow spaces for people to recharge and decompress … people want better balance.”

Cultivating such safe and inviting spaces as the AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit ensures women have the tools and skills needed to navigate their careers and provide community support.

There are numerous ways to increase involvement and boost diversity within the profession through toolkits, webcasts, learning resources and more. Start preparing now for the next AICPA & CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit. The conference will be Nov. 13–15 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa with in-person and virtual options available.

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