Leading by Example: AICPA Summit Promotes Skillbuilding, Sponsorship for Women
By Deanna C. White
By now, many of us are familiar with the statistics on the current status of women in leadership in accounting, says Mary L. Bennett, founder of MLBennett Consulting LLC and chair of the AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee 
"If you look at people coming up in the ranks over the last thirty years, 50 percent of the people in the profession are women," Bennett said citing a recent AICPA survey, "but only 19 percent of leadership in the accounting and finance professions right now is female."
That disparity points to the fact, Bennett said, that even after years of commitment to diversity in leadership, and the emergence of more female leaders in the accounting pipeline, the profession still needs to make a more focused effort to actively develop, build, and sponsor women leaders.
"There is a perception problem with women in leadership…a 'been there, done that' kind of feeling. As soon as people believe women have been in the pipeline long enough they become complacent. They think the 'women in leadership issue' will simply take care of itself," Bennett said. "But that's not the case. We still need to invest in this issue. We still need to make a more substantial effort to ensure women are achieving top leadership roles."
That's exactly the type of substantial commitment the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) will make this October, when it hosts the Women's Global Leadership Summit.
The Summit, which will be held October 24 and October 25 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington D.C., will attempt to close the gap in women's leadership by offering both aspiring and established women leaders access to the two resources that can solidify their path to success: authentic role models and solid skillbuilding.
"One of the most essential elements in leadership development is access to new ideas and learning opportunities combined with strong role models," Bennett said. "This conference gives participants both."
The Women's Global Leadership Summit, developed by the AICPA's Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, is designed to help participants "develop critical business skills, receive key updates on issues affecting women and the workplace, build important professional networks, and support diversity in the office and the boardroom," according to the AICPA.
Attendees will be able to gain insights and learn best practices from women in the finance, government, not-for-profit, and academic arenas. Organizers say sessions are international in scope, with speakers and organizations representing global perspectives.
Yasmine El-Ramly, project manager, PCPS, for the AICPA, said the Summit will also give women the opportunity to glean inspiration directly from women who have achieved success in their fields, as well as bring together all audiences, male and female, who want to learn more about developing female leaders or women's initiatives.
Keynoters will include BBC World News anchor Katty Kay, a co-author of Womenomics , and noted futurist Edie Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., who at the 29, became the youngest outside woman elected to a major financial institution's board.
Breakout sessions will feature best practices on negotiating skills, effective communication, risk management, board leadership, and other topics. Specific sessions include Business Development and Strategic Partnership Strategies for Women, and Communicate like a Leader, Effective Strategies for Women.
In one of the Summit's most unique offerings, participants who have been poring over the hottest business reads on their tablets will have the chance to meet the authors, and work with them directly in interactive career navigation sessions through the Summit's "Discussion with the Author" series.
Mackey McNeill, CPA/PFS, CGMA, author of The Intersection of Joy and Money will share insights into money, wealth, and human behavior; Janet Graham, CPA, CA, MBA, will guide participants through an interactive coaching session with lessons gleaned from her book Babes on Bay Street, and Executive Coach Karen Wensley, MBA, author of The Power of Personal Branding for Career Success, will walk participants through an eight-step process to help them define and build their brand.
One of the major motivators behind the genesis of the Summit, Bennett said, was the desire to help women build an awareness of what might be missing in their own careers, and help them "fill in the blanks" to achieve success.
"The Women's Executive Committee developed the Summit because we want to bring a reasonable awareness to the fact that women are not receiving the same amount of skillbuilding [as their male counterparts] in their rise to the top, and they are missing out on role models and sponsors who reflect diversity in how they've gone about managing their career and home life," Bennett said. "The Summit will provide them the access to these skills and role models that they can't get anyplace else."
Bennett said it's critical to bring attention to these missing pieces of the puzzle because very often women are not even aware they are missing out on the key sponsorships, skill building, and assignments that lead to the corner office because they are not privy to the behind the scenes discussions that lead to leadership assignments.
"Many times women themselves are not consciously aware of what might be holding them back. We can educate them as to what their barriers to success may be," Bennett said.
Many people are also not aware, Bennett said, that career life integration is a skill set that can be built through study and practice.
"There are a lot of specific skills connected to career life integration," Bennett said. "The Summit will show participants how to develop those skills and the pitfalls to avoid."
One of the most important of those career life integration skills, Bennett said, is the ability to build a strong team.
"Women have really good, basic raw skills but those skills can backfire. Women are super team players, but they also try to be superwoman," Bennett said. "They have a tendency to be overly focused on maintaining personal control, when what they really need to do is build a strong support team that can handle things when they are not in the office for whatever reason – whether are with a client or at home."
El-Ramly indicated that many prospective attendees say they are signing up for the Summit specifically because they want access to female role models who can tell them how they ascended to success through their own stories of trial and error – mentors they simply don't have access to in their male-dominated fields.
"This conference gives specific career navigation information to women…presented by leaders of the profession; practitioners with unique success stories," El-Ramly said. "It is a great opportunity to meet female role models, learn from others, and share lessons learned."
Bennett added that critical sharing between aspiring leaders and role models that authentically reflect their experiences is the Summit's ultimate goal.
"I hope women leave the Summit with the skills and knowledge they need most," Bennett said. "But mainly I hope women leave with a good idea of who their role models and sponsors are – a belief that they exist, that they are out there, and how to find them. And I hope they reach out to them."
The AICPA's 2013 Women's Global Leadership Summit is co-sponsored by the American Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants  and CPA Canada.  A live webcast option will be available for those who can't attend in person.
For more details on the Summit or to register visit www.cpa2biz.com/leadership .