By AFWA National President, Lori Kelley, CPA
Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance was the first professional organization I joined upon starting my career in public accounting back in 1992. Here I am now, 25 years later, representing this organization as its National President. I can’t even begin to describe how excited and honored I am at this opportunity! And, it was certainly fitting that I was installed in Chattanooga, since Chattanooga was the first AFWA National Conference I attended as a young CPA. It had quite the impact on me! I attended with my first AFWA mentor – Janet Wade. What a time we had, and by the time we left Chattanooga, Janet had volunteered us to chair the 1998 conference in St. Pete Beach, FL . Nothing like jumping in with both feet first!
This year, I plan to lead our National Board back to basics. Our focus this year will look familiar to you – it is our tag line – Connect. Advance. Lead.
By definition, connect is “to join, link, or fasten together; unite or bind; establish communication between” – another word we like to use for this is, Network! In my 25 years in AFWA, I have developed a professional network of women that spans nationwide. I cannot begin to tell you how invaluable all these connections have been in my professional life and more importantly, in my personal life. Connections are vital and the Board is going to focus on our connections inside this organization – chapters and members – in the coming year.
AFWA was originally organized in 1938 to support women in the accounting field; to gain footing in a field dominated by men. Women encountered obstacles in gaining entrance into university accounting and finance programs, and then in getting jobs they were qualified to hold, afterwards. Most of the original goals in starting this organization have been met – women are able to enter the profession with few barriers; however, women are still proportionally less represented in the upper management ranks of accounting firms and companies. Today’s women still have concerns regarding work/life integration, gender equity and the glass ceiling. Woman are earning more than half of all college degrees in accounting: 52.1% of bachelor’s degrees; 52.7% of master’s degrees and 44.4% of Ph.Ds. More than half of all accountants and auditors in the United States are women – 63%. One survey in 2015 found that women are 47% of all professional staff at CPA firms, but make up just 22% of partners and principals. The good news is that these numbers are up and will continue to rise as long as organizations such as AFWA continue to support women in the advancement of their careers.
To effectively move forward our goals, we must help our members grow into the leaders they want to become. Leadership, or the ability to lead, is not a “phenomenon.” While it’s true that some people have more aptitude than others to effectively discharge leadership roles, it’s my experience that leadership characteristics can be developed in those who have only the basic traits. Leadership characteristics should not be viewed as simply a “charismatic happening.” The elements of leadership can be identified and it is possible to coach these fundamentals. Developing leadership qualities in our members is a way to ensure success in today’s competitive world, because the one asset that truly appreciates within any organization is its people. Systems become dated, buildings deteriorate and machinery wears. But our people can grow! AFWA is committed to providing resources to equip our members with both the soft skills and leadership skills they need to Thrive!
As we proceed into the new AFWA year, I am excited to serve as your President and I’m thrilled to further our message. Join me this year as we Connect. Advance. & Lead.