15 Special Women in Accounting

03/21/2019

casey

Casey J. Blake | Marketing Manager, Edelstein & Company LLP

Casey Blake is the marketing manager at Edelstein & Company LLP and is an experienced marketing professional with a demonstrated history of working in the accounting industry. For nearly a decade, she has worked with organizations on their strategic marketing objectives, event execution, social media goals and relationship cultivation. She currently serves as chair of the MSCPA’s Marketing Committee and was a 2017 Women to Watch Award recipient.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
The profession has changed by way of technology, flexibility and the overall perception of accountants. Technology has made some processes and procedures easier and more efficient, and flexibility has allowed our professionals to harmonize their schedules and find ways to achieve career success alongside personal fulfillment. Lastly, I feel that the overall perception of accountants has changed. When we rebranded in 2015, we had an overwhelming response to our new look and feel and how it truly represented accountants – friendly, personable, fun!

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?

I believe that the more you say your goals out loud, the more they become reality. By sharing your goals with who you report to, you’re ensuring that he or she understands what you’d like to accomplish and can help you get there.

cheryl

Cheryl M. Burke | Partner and COO, DGC (DiCicco Gulman & Company LLP)

Cheryl is a partner, the firm’s chief operating officer (COO) and member of the Executive Management team at DGC (DiCicco, Gulman & Company LLP). She has extensive experience in all areas of operations management including human capital, IT, finance and marketing. As COO, she works with the managing partner and Executive Committee on strategy and growth initiatives, delivery of client services and the management of firm operations. While her primary focus is managing the business of the firm, Burke frequently advises clients in the areas of organizational structure, technology and financial best practices. She is a former MSCPA board member and a 2018 Women to Watch Award recipient.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
I think those in the profession recognize how challenging a career in public accounting is, and, as a result, we have adjusted help increase the likelihood of success. This is seen in mobility, work from home options, flexible work schedules and, most importantly, an increased focus on training and developing people well beyond auditing, tax and accounting skills. We believe in developing people who our clients trust, and who they turn to first.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Women should be willing take on opportunities that are new and challenging, that help them to learn and grow. It could be taking on an assignment in a new area, writing an article for your marketing team or taking the lead on a firm initiative. Opportunities like these will help you improve your own skills, work with others you might not have in the past and demonstrate your value well beyond your current responsibilities.

shanikwa

Shanikwa D. Davis, CPA, EA, MST | Owner, S. Davis Tax Consultants

Shanikwa Davis is the owner of S. Davis Tax Consultants where she provides tax consulting services specializing in tax advice, IRS representation and business structure consulting. Her clients range from private individuals to global corporations. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Educational Foundation Board of Directors and the Women in Accounting Committee.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
Men and women are seeking more opportunities that truly allow them to balance their everyday life with work. Today's professional must be available in a nontraditional capacity that is outside of normal business hours. Clients want accountants who are technologically flexible, can work with their financial or investment advisor and are technically skilled.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
First, "balance is key." Second, position yourself to continuously enhance your knowledge, and be around people who are not averse to change. Third, remember your personal brand in every capacity you work. I learned that challenges at one level prepared me for the challenges at the next level. Finally, always keep your vision and goals in mind.

katherine durant

Katherine K. Durant, CPA, CGMA | Senior Director, Investor Relations, CVS Health

Katie Durant, CPA, CGMA is the senior director of Investor Relations for CVS Health where she plays an active role in supporting the communication between the company and the financial community. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Women in Accounting Committee and is a former MSCPA board member.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
CPAs are much more well-rounded and can provide consultation and review of more than just accounting transactions. You can see that with the newer designations that have come out like the CGMA and other certifications. CPAs are still highly regarded as knowledgeable sources and sought out for their expertise and we have steered from the stereotype that CPAs just do taxes.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Embracing your strengths and sharing them with others in the organization is key while making sure we speak up for what we want, and not downplay our capabilities. Mentoring younger colleagues and lifting them up with us as we advance is also important.

laura

Laura L. Felice, CPA, CGMA | Senior Vice President, Controller, BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc

Laura Felice is senior vice president, controller of BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc. where she is responsible for the integrity of the financial records and SEC reporting post taking the company public in June 2018.  She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Board of Directors and Women in Accounting Committee and was a 2017 Women to Watch Award recipient. 

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
I have been in industry for 10 years and as technology has evolved, so have the skill sets and talent level of employees that I look to hire on my team. Today, I seek out employees that are strategic thinkers and can be a partner to help solve boarder business goals while playing a part in implementing technologies like AI and robotics to streamline transactional accounting.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Own your career and be intentional and mindful in where you’re going and how you plan to get there; for it is important to be visible and raise your hand to ask for stretch assignments or opportunities. If you don’t speak up and advocate for yourself, others will make assumptions for you. For me personally, my key to success has been surrounding myself with a strong team and a strong network.  A strong team has allowed me to take on stretch assignments and participate in visible roles and a strong network has given me perspective and insight on opportunities within the profession and industry (for me, this is retail).

carla

Carla M. McCall, CPA, CGMA | Co-Managing Partner, AAFCPAs

Carla McCall, CPA, CGMA is co-managing partner of AAFCPAs where she leads and drives the firm’s strategic vision for the future, while ensuring day-to-day operations are keeping up with today’s urgent demands.She is a past chairman of the MSCPA Board of Directors, currently serves on the AICPA Council and was a 2013 Women to Watch Award recipient.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
We are gaining great efficiencies and new capabilities through sophisticated technology; however, we are now facing disruption by artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies like blockchain. The need to help clients understand the power of AI and data analytics is demanding our profession to look for diverse skill sets to add to our teams as well as train our team to learn new skills. Additionally, the emergence and wide demand for new technologies has brought the additional challenges of IT and cybersecurity—potentially costly business risks.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Set ambitious goals and ask for what you want. Self-awareness is an important part of the puzzle; especially as professional women take strides toward securing leadership roles. If you don’t have access to the experiences you are seeking or a clear path to leadership, ask for it because a good coach or mentor will help you get ‘intentional experiences’ that move you along your path. No one is going to hand you a leadership opportunity, but if you demonstrate that you are deserving and confidently ask for what you want, you have a better chance of meeting your professional and personal goals.

karen

Karen McElroy, CPA | Audit Partner, Financial Services, Deloitte & Touche LLP 

Karen McElroy, CPA is an audit partner in the Financial Services practice in the Boston Office of Deloitte & Touche LLP where she serves many of the firm’s largest financial services clients in planning and execution of all aspects of the audit of each entity, review of financial statements, SEC reporting and related filings, research of reporting and technical issues and more. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Board of Directors and the Regulated Investment Companies Committee and was a 2013 Women to Watch Award recipient.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
We can now deliver powerful insights that simply weren’t possible 10 or 20 years ago, transforming the audit from an obligation into an opportunity. The challenge for us as accountants is we need to improve our skills around communication, critical thinking and collaborating with professionals who bring complementary skills to the audit process, including data scientists. Innovation is making these human capabilities more important, not less, and I think that the Society and other organizations can play a role here. 

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
When it comes to career advancement, you don’t want to have your eyes so far ahead that you’re overlooking the basics that go into any person’s career success. If you know technical things about your field and industry that others don’t, that gives you immediate leverage. In addition, make it a focus to broaden your professional network to gain more institutional knowledge of how to navigate the organization and expose yourself to people who have direct influence over your career trajectory, including decisions related to hiring, assignments, special opportunities and of course, promotions.

laura

Laura P. O'Brien, CPA | Principal, ALL CPAs

Laura O’Brien, CPA is a principal at ALL CPAs where she manages client's tax planning and wealth preservation strategies for clients in a wide array of industries, recruits new business and is responsible for developing prospects into clients and more. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Board of Directors, the Women in Accounting Committee and Alternative Investments Committee.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
When I look back at the early stages of my career in public accounting, two things come to mind: The first being the tools and resources we used to perform our job and the other was the makeup of the profession. This was really a crossroads from the time of 13 column ledgers, pencil sharpeners, blue tick mark pencils and a “library” filled with research books to a time of individual computers appearing on everyone’s desk. At small and mid-size firms, female partners were still a rarity until more women started to fill the seats at the seminars and conferences I was attending. All in all, the profession is redefining itself, the services it provides, and the resources used to provide these services as well as who is providing these services as more firms are expanding diversity programs.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
With proper mentoring and willingness of firms to be flexible, more women can achieve leadership positions. I had four children in seven years, and my firm allowed me the flexibility to adapt my schedule as needed throughout the years of raising them. In addition, we must accept that learning never stops, that we must continue to adapt and learn as the profession evolves. I can see now that it is my responsibility to be a mentor to younger women in the profession, that public accounting is a profession that can lead to a work life balance. 

amy

Amy K. Phelan, CPA | Shareholder, tonneson + co

Amy Phelan, CPA is a shareholder at tonneson + co and has expertise in working with high-net-worth individuals, business owners and their families on tax planning, retirement planning, trusts and estates and more. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Educational Foundation Board of Directors.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
When I first started my accounting career, there was no email, no voicemail, and no smartphones. Today, it’s possible to be where you need to be and live your life while remaining available for your clients. With flexible hours, work-from-home opportunities, or part-time schedules, it’s easier for accounting professionals to balance the responsibilities of work and home. This helps tremendously with recruitment and retention of our best employees.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Work hard and be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve while also being proactive in learning from everyone around you. It’s important to look for challenging opportunities to gain knowledge and build strong relationships not only with your clients, but with your colleagues at every level of the firm, as well as outside the firm.

amy

Amy A. Pitter | President & CEO, The Massachusetts Society of CPAs (MSCPA)

Amy Pitter is president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society of CPAs (MSCPA) where she is dedicated to serving the Society’s 11,000 members in public accounting, industry and business, government and education. She was named one of 2018 Most Powerful Women in Accounting by CPA Practice Advisor and has been featured in several news outlets, including Accounting Today, Boston Business Journal, Commonwealth Magazine and The Boston Globe.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
The profession has changed dramatically since I started my career in 1980. Despite the advancements in technology, the changes in culture are even more pronounced. Today's culture of valuing work life integration, flexible work arrangements and appreciating the perspective and contributions of young staff benefits everyone (not just women), and I cheer for these advances.                       

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Make sure you are with a firm or company that values diversity and encourages people to bring their authentic selves to the office. Once you find the right place, find a mentor and a sponsor to help coach you (mentor) and open doors for you (sponsor). Also, remember the skills that make you a great accountant are different from the skills that make you a great leader. It’s important to step out of your comfort zone and focus on your networking, business development and communication skills - that is what takes you to the next level.   Finally, believe in yourself and seize opportunities to advance.  

kathryn

Kathryn A. Polak, CPA, CGMA | Vice President, Global Client Services, Vistra

Kathryn Polak, CPA, CGMA is a vice president, Global Client Services in the International Expansion division of Vistra, one of the top four corporate service providers globally. She leads an experienced team in supporting clients’ international expansion efforts across five continents, overseeing client engagements, relationships and service satisfaction. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Educational Foundation Board of Directors and the Academic and Career Development Committee and is a former MSCPA board member.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
As businesses have become more sophisticated and complex, the role of the CPA has been substantially elevated and expanded.  CPAs, with highly portable skill sets, now act as trusted advisors, strategic business partners, board members and key influencers in businesses across the globe. In a profession that values integrity, ethics, collaboration and diversity and inclusion, the opportunities for professional growth and advancement are limitless.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Periodic self-assessments are critical to identify your strengths and build a clear vision of the value you bring to your clients and to your company. Senior management notices and promotes problem-solvers, calculated risk-takers and those who can positively impact the company’s bottom line. Showing confidence, poise and grace, while exceling in one of these areas, is icing on the cake.

merrill

Merrill S. Puopolo, CPA, CGMA | Managing Director, CBIZ MHM

Merrill Puopolo, CPA, CGMA is managing director at CBIZ MHMwhere she primarily works with closely-held businesses and not-for-profit organizations offering a wide range of services including audits of financial statements, tax planning and consulting, internal control and system reviews, due diligence services and financial statement analysis. She is a past chairman of the MSCPA Board of Directors and currently serves on the MSCPA’s Women in Accounting Committee.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
Ten years ago, we were losing a lot of young mothers in the profession, now we are catering to working mothers and we are a stronger workplace and profession because of it.There are also many more career paths and varying opportunities within the accounting profession now. Outside of general audit and tax work, you can choose to specialize in different industry sectors, focus on state and local tax or international tax, for example, or get into the advisory side of the business.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your ideas. Get involved in your firm and in the profession. If you see a problem, bring it to the forefront and offer ideas or potential solutions to fix it. This is how I became involved in various initiatives and committees both at my firm and in the profession. 

carol

Carol L. Ruiz, CPA | Senior Manager, PwC LLP

Carol Ruiz, CPA is a senior manager with PwC’s Health Industries practice. With more than 15 years of audit experience, she provides audit and advisory services to clients across the industry. Her technical experience includes revenue recognition, alternative investments, business combinations, bond offerings and federal research compliance work. She has advised clients on technical accounting issues and worked with clients on implementing accounting pronouncements.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
The parental leave benefits have changed over the years. For example, at my firm there was a new benefit launched last year to address “transition time” for new parents. With this benefit, new parents can work 60% of their hours for 100% of their pay for the first month back after having or adopting a child. The firm was very intentional about it being for both women AND men. Technology has also made it easier for people to work remotely and still be accessible to teams, and we should continue to leverage these tools. I have also experienced senior leadership being more open to having candid conversations on this topic. This is something that we should continue to promote as it will help identify solutions to existing challenges and ultimately lead to having more women in leadership roles.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Finding the right mentors and cultivating relationships have been important in advancing my career. Over the years, I have developed various relationships and expanded my network, which has made the world of difference for me. We need to continue to think about programs such as #HeForShe, a global movement for gender equality, when we consider mentoring. I would also encourage women to speak up and seek opportunities that will help them stretch. Don’t underestimate what you can do – as women, we are constantly second guessing ourselves, which ultimately impedes our progress. Find the right support, foster relationships, advocate for yourself and don’t succumb to the imposter syndrome. 

katie

Kathryn N. Seekell, CPA | Principal, Kurzman Dempsey & Kowalker LLP

Kathryn Seekell, CPA is a principal at Kurzman, Dempsey & Kowalker, LLP, with over 20 years of experience servicing the accounting and tax needs of a diverse client portfolio. She currently serves on the MSCPA’s Board of Directors and Federal Taxation Committee.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
With the advancements in technology, we now can attend meetings and work remotely, collaborate with colleagues and clients face-to-face without driving the distance. Our office is at our fingertips and we no longer need to drag heavy audit bags crammed with everything one might need to work out at the client’s office when a laptop can do the job. Additionally, social media provides a pathway to connect, interact and exchange ideas with colleagues one might not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
Look at the direction of your career through a five-year lens and look less at where you would like to be and more at what achievements you would like to have made. Advancing into a leadership role is a series of steps more like a winding road, where one gains experience in unique ways. Find ways to make these goals happen by exploring needs both in our profession and in our community.  Look also to role models outside of your immediate circle; diverse role models open avenues outside of our comfort zones and create unexpected opportunities. 

jane

Jane Steinmetz | Boston Office Managing Principal, EY

Jane Steinmetz is the managing principal for EY’s Boston office where she brings over 20 years of experience in serving Fortune 100 clients, leading high-performing teams and advocating for change to local legislature. Responsible for all aspects of the New England practice, she manages over 2,100 professionals who make an impact on area businesses, the economy and the community.She was a 2018 Women to Watch Award recipient.

How has the profession changed since you started your career?
There are more women leaders in this profession now than ever before. Back when I started, I was one of a few women partners and it was extremely rare to see women leaders. Today, more women have a seat at the table, literally and figuratively. We are more digital now than anyone could have predicted. These digital solutions allow for more precision, reduced risk, faster results and better accuracy from all our teams across every service line. We have been implementing these new technologies to help better serve our clients and engage our people differently.

What can other women do to advance to a leadership role?
In addition to attending leadership workshops, taking on stretch projects and finding sponsors and mentors to develop your professional skills, all of which are critical, my advice is simple: women need to accept who they are and herald what they bring to the position. Having confidence in yourself is crucial to advancing to leadership—it frees up all the tension that comes with overthinking and you can use that energy to excel in your roles. Remember that your leadership style may be different from the person next to you, but it can be as effective or more impactful. Being authentic in all facets of your life, in the workplace and beyond, can inspire greater confidence, happiness and success.

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