Nov 4th 2013
By Deanna C. White
When the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) conducted its Women's Initiatives Survey among its membership last year, the voice of one particular community came through loud and clear.
More than 80 percent of women CPAs surveyed indicated they wanted the OSCPA to develop programs and activities specifically geared for female members.
This July, those female CPAs from Ohio saw that request come to fruition when the OSCPA rolled out its new Women's Initiative.
The OSCPA's Women's Initiative is dedicated to advancing the careers of Ohio's female CPAs by offering programs, resources, and events specifically geared toward women's interests and issues. Some of those issues will include work-life balance strategies, leadership development, and career path resources, OSCPA officials say.
"The Women's Initiative is an opportunity for OSCPA to respond to the changing profession," said Marie Brilmyer, CPA, member of the Women's Initiative Committee and OSCPA's Executive Board. "While the issues facing women today are certainly not gender or profession specific, OSCPA is able to provide resources and support to its members to face the issues surrounding work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, and career advancement head on."
The formation of the OSCPA Women's Initiative also follows closely on the heels of a recent study by the AICPA that indicated a gender disparity in CPA leadership positions. While women represent 50 percent of all CPAs, the research showed just 19 percent are firm shareholders/partners and less than 9 percent are chief financial officers within the business industry.
However, unlike other diversity programs focused exclusively on talent development, the OSCPA Women's Initiative looks to build awareness and provide resources for female CPAs.
"As we talk to women CPAs, we are finding they have a number of interests that blend both personal and professional," said Jennifer Rieman, OSCPA Public Relations manager. "The Women's Initiative addresses both needs through a LinkedIn group, lunches, and other networking events."
The OSCPA kicked off the Women's Initiative by creating a private LinkedIn group for women CPAs in Ohio and hosted five networking receptions throughout the state.
Amy Johnson, vice president of Communications for the OSCPA, said the Women's Initiative is also planning its first standalone networking luncheon program in Cleveland this November, featuring speaker Roxanne Kaufman Elliott. Kaufman Elliott will present "The New Math" for women, a formula designed to help women overcome their biggest obstacles to success, including how men and women communicate differently.
Johnson said the Women's Initiative, which is still in its infancy, is also exploring the possibility of hosting a women's conference next year and a series of video webcast programs on various topics of interest to its female members.
Scott Wiley, CAE, president and CEO of the OSCPA, said the OSCPA's first Women's Initiative has "the potential to support CPAs in new and important ways. It provides a platform for our members to connect and build community around common interests and professional goals," Wiley said.
One of the best ways to build that sense of community, Women's Committee members say, is to combine traditional networking and leverage social media sites, like LinkedIn, to provide an instant and ever-present sense of outreach among female CPAs who share common goals and concerns.
OSCPA Women's Committee member Summer Cogar, CPA, said reaching out to women CPAs and building a sense of community, through social media sites like LinkedIn and other technologies, will be a critical part of the Women's Initiative's efforts to empower women to reach their own personal definition of success.
"Social media sites liked LinkedIn make connecting and supporting each other through a common purpose easy and efficient. Smartphones enable quick information sharing and idea exchange for today's women, who are balancing careers and demands at home," Cogar said. "Today, technology makes it very easy to exchange ideas with other women and to support each other in reaching our highest level of potential and achieving our individual definitions of success."
Cogar said she believes the OSCPA Women's Initiative has come about at the perfect time to address issues like work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, and career advancement – a time when both men and women in the profession and the profession itself are ripe for change.
"[Today], women and men are ready for a change, and organizations are ready for a change as well. There is a real cultural shift taking place where families with both spouses working outside the home are becoming the norm," Cogar said. "In addition, many studies have proven that organizations have the highest bottom line and are most successful when their senior-level management positions are diverse and balanced between men and women. So it is beneficial and critical for all organizations to make this a priority in order to stay competitive in today's ever-changing markets."
Cogar said one of the main goals of the Women's Initiative is to raise awareness about women's issues and the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership positions within the profession so people can begin to have "empowering" conversations about change within their own practices and organizations.
"When you bring these issues to light, people become empowered to start talking about them within their own organizations. That is when change can really ignite and build momentum," Cogar said.
For more information about the Women's Initiative, visit the OSCPA website.