Inspiring Women to Take the Lead
In expanding its Women’s Mentoring Circles, the Illinois CPA Society hopes to advance more women into accounting and finance leadership roles.
In a 2011 LinkedIn survey of 1,000 women professionals, 80
percent said having a mentor was important, but only 20 percent
had a mentor. That gap has narrowed some today thanks to
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s efforts to popularize mentoring
circles—peer-to-peer group mentoring programs enabling like-minded
colleagues within an organization to come together in the
name of professional advancement—but there’s still work to be
done, particularly among organizations struggling to advance
women into their leadership ranks.
This trend is not new to the Illinois CPA Society. Recognizing how
mentoring could help resolve the underrepresentation of women
in the accounting and finance profession’s leadership ranks, the
Mentoring Subcommittee was created in 2006 by the then-
Women’s Executive Committee and was tasked with identifying new
programs and services that would benefit the Society’s women
members—enter Women’s Mentoring Circles.
Women tend to focus more on their own weaknesses rather
than their strengths. On the other hand, they are quick to see
others’ strengths and desire to support them. So, the Circles’
overarching goal is to bring women of all experience levels and
backgrounds together to create a safe place for mutual sharing,
encouragement, and empowerment. Circle members, usually
between five and eight women per Circle, choose a topic—either
personal or professional—for a group discussion. The Circle leader
spearheads the discussion, and the leader role rotates among the
group, so all members have a chance to build their confidence,
improve their leadership skills, and engage in meaningful career
development through lively facilitation.
“The Circles are more beneficial than traditional networking. With
a standard one-to-one discussion, you need to know how to ask
the question or frame the problem and then hope that the other
party has the appropriate knowledge,” explains Melody Ragan,
CPA, CGMA, controller and finance manager at Schiff Hardin LLP.
“With multiple opinions and various backgrounds of experience,
you get multiple points of view. Think of cooking eggs. There are a
dozen different ways to cook an egg, but in the end, it’s still an egg.
Accounting and management experiences can be very different,
but in the end, we are all trying to be the best we can be.”
Soon, the Circles will widen as the program expands to an online
community accessible via the Society’s website. The community
will allow Circle members to stay connected between meetings and
to make inter-Circle collaboration easier. An added benefit is that
women who are waiting to be assigned to a Circle can start
connecting with other members right away, regardless of where
they live or work.
“I’ve loved my experience with my mentoring circle. My greatest
takeaway is meeting, getting to know, and being comfortable with
the Circle members,” Ragan says. “I’m grateful that I’ve been able to
support the women in my Circle. It may have been with an accounting
problem, a resume or job referral, or simply to take a brief break from
an over-piled desk. I’ve found the members are a wonderful support
group to each other, both in a professional and personal sense.”
“Over the past few years, the Society has focused on reinvigorating
the relationship between the Mentoring Circle participants, their
volunteer coordinators, and Society staff with the goal of making
the Circles an invaluable resource for our members,” says Kristin
McGill, MBA, CAE, the Society’s senior director of membership.
“The Circles are open to all ICPAS female members from all stages
in their careers. The goal is to provide an avenue for participants
to gain from the mutual wisdom, learn from the various experiences,
and gain unique perspectives from their peers. The Circles are
convenient and accessible, meeting at least four times per year in
Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.”
Mentoring Circles are open to women in all business disciplines
and practice areas, including public accounting, corporate finance,
tax, internal audit, law, education, not-for-profits, and government,
just to name a few. Visit www.icpas.org/mentoringcircles if you
would like to join or for more information.