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The Pulse: Women’s Mentoring Circles: Bringing Women in Accounting Together

March 02, 2023

The Pulse is a series designed for our members to meet leaders in accounting and get a glimpse into the thought process behind some of the important decisions they face. In each issue, MassCPAs President and CEO Amy Pitter asks a panel of members to respond to a hot topic in the profession. 

Last issue, we covered the important role we can all play in contributing to the future of the profession. For this issue, we spoke with Katie Belanger, CPA, partner at AAFCPAs, Merrill Puopolo, CPA, CGMA, managing director at CBIZ & MHM, Amanda Wolfe, CPA, director at PKF JND P.C., about Women’s Mentoring Circles, what you can expect at meetings and what makes them unique. 

Katie Belanger, CPA

Partner | AAFCPAs

Merrill Puopolo, CPA, CGMA

 Managing Director | CBIZ & MHM

Amanda Wolfe, CPA

Director | PKF JND P.C.

What can you expect from our Women’s Mentoring Circle?  

WOLFE: You can expect a group of women who are open to sharing their experiences and ideas to help other women excel in their careers. You will find that the one-hour meeting goes by so fast and there is never a lack of topics to discuss.  

PUOPOLO: You get out of it what you put in. You could be an observer and listen to the questions and discussions or you could come with your own topics you’d like to discuss. The meetings are filled with friendly, welcoming women and there is no set agenda. It’s a chance to pick the brains of a variety of women in the accounting industry.  

BELANGER: You can expect to network with eight to fifteen women of various levels of experience, and a combination of women working in public accounting and private. Topics run the gamut, from technical to personal and we share challenges, successes and experiences. Everyone is supportive and there is no pressure to contribute. Sometimes the benefit comes from simply listening. 

What makes these conversations special?

PUOPOLO: Sometimes we talk about issues that are unique to women in the workplace, and sometimes we discuss issues that are relevant to anyone in the profession. The mentors and Society staff typically put together some topics to get the session started, but the conversation almost always ends up taking on a life of its own. What makes these special is that you get a lot of different perspectives from a variety of firm sizes, departments and years of experience. Everyone has, or should have, a mentor at their firm, but these mentoring circles allow you to get different perspectives, particularly when there are consistent attendees because you end up getting to know them better and seeing how their careers progress. 

BELANGER: These groups provide a ‘safe space’ where I can share with and listen to other women facing – or who have faced – the same challenges, including those that come with navigating the competing demands of public accounting and motherhood. I’m a newer partner and have two young children. It’s been helpful to hear that I’m not alone and rewarding to share my own experiences. I was one of my firm’s first flex-time managers and now a flex-time partner. Reducing my hours helped me achieve better balance at work and at home, so I didn’t have to compromise my career for a family. 

WOLFE: I find the conversations special because I can relate to the concerns and challenges that my peers face. I have been able to build my network and meet other professional women in a way that isn’t always possible with other groups.

Tell us about how you’ve connected with women at different stages in their careers.

BELANGER: Recently, a few of us were commiserating about how busy life gets during the holidays. Others in the circle chimed in with encouraging thoughts about not needing to do it all, such as forgoing the annual holiday card, or other traditions that we’ve told ourselves we MUST do. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and we reminded each other to slow down, think about the important things and traditions that bring joy – and to ask for help when you need it.  

WOLFE: I have learned so much from women in the group in all different stages of their careers. It’s so valuable to have a group that gives you the opportunity to discuss various topics and brainstorm solutions.  

PUOPOLO: I was told once “do not underestimate your influence on women in accounting,” and for me, I realize this means that I don’t always know the impact I may have had or what I said that someone took to heart that may have changed their career progression. I was told by another woman how she used what I said about her career path to parlay it into a promotion, and she made a point to seek me out at an event to tell me and thank me. Needless to say, it made me feel very good and truly embodies the types of connections these groups can have.