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Female Perspectives: 3 AICPA Chairs’ Success in the Profession

Women's history monthMarch is Women’s History Month, a chance for the world to acknowledge the contributions of women.  

The AICPA is on a mission to shine light on successful, female CPAs who have cracked the proverbial glass ceiling. We interviewed three women who have recently shared their talents with the AICPA by taking on the role of board chair.

Meet the first female chair to be elected in 1998, Olivia Kirtley, fourth female chair, Tommye Barie elected in 2014, and present chair Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, who made history as the first African American woman to be elected. These pioneers discuss their climb to the top and what it took for them to reach their position.

AICPA: How do you get to a position where you’re asked to chair the accounting profession’s premier organization?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: You have to be confident and bring your “A” game strategy.

  • Attitude – You must be equipped with a positive, can-do attitude that makes people want to work with you. If people know you are enthusiastic, passionate and willing to work diligently to achieve goals, people will be willing to go out on a limb and vouch for you.
  • Aptitude – I fully embrace learning as an ongoing journey and not a destination. This is a key attribute of our profession. It is very important to maintain relevant and highly valued skills in order to meet the business needs of not just today but tomorrow.
  • Appearance – I pay close attention to my personal brand. To ensure that my brand will allow me to maximize opportunities, I have a personal board of directors who won’t just tell me what I want to hear, but also give me advice that will strengthen my credibility and impact in the marketplace.

AICPA: How do you learn to trust yourself and know that you are more than good enough for a job/leadership role?

Olivia Kirtley: I entered the accounting profession when firms rarely hired women for their professional staff. I knew that there was no substitute for competence, so I was determined to focus on being the best that I could be.

Much of my experience and leadership roles greatly enhanced my confidence.

AICPA: How did you earn respect in the workplace and brand yourself as a trusted leader?

Tommye Barie: I believe assertiveness and authenticity are foundational to being a great leader. Assertive people can choose how to behave, stand up for themselves and others, and maintain their own rights without stepping on others’ rights. Authenticity emphasizes a leader’s legitimacy through honest relationships. I am true to myself and I lead by example, which builds trust and respect.

AICPA: What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a woman who has been promoted to multiple leadership roles, and how did you overcome those challenges? 

Olivia Kirtley: My greatest challenges came when working outside of the U.S., particularly as a younger corporate executive doing due diligence and leading negotiations for potential acquisitions in countries where women were not present in the executive ranks. There are still many countries today where women are not included in the upper ranks, but I have frankly not encountered any issues with business professionals or government officials respecting my leadership position.

AICPA: How do you cultivate relationships with men in power in order to gain access to mentors and sponsors who can propel your career?

Tommye Barie: Whether looking to develop a professional relationship with a male or female, I have always looked to find common interests. Sports have played a large role in that for me; my dad taught me to play golf at a young age for which I will forever be grateful. You can cover a lot of ground with anyone while playing 18 holes of golf.

AICPA: What impact does being the first African-American woman in this role have on the profession?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor: I hope that my election as chair of the AICPA surpasses gender and serves as inspiration for people across ethnicities. I truly believe that inspiration leads to aspirations because people have to first know that it’s possible in order to do what others think is impossible. It should also show that the best and the brightest leaders can succeed and do well in our profession.

AICPA: What leadership lessons have you learned on your path to success?

Tommye Barie: Here are three basic lessons I’ve learned that have helped me over the years:

  • Embrace opportunities that are outside your comfort zone.
  • Aim high. Don’t settle. Be bold, be brave, and be diligent.
  • Lead by example. Create a culture of leadership by showing that you’re willing to put in at least as much effort as anyone else.

AICPA: What advice do you have for other women who are seeking to gain an influential voice in the workplace and rise to higher levels of leadership?

Olivia Kirtley: Be prepared, be competent, and never stop learning. Embrace change.  Read, read, read—it will expand your horizons. Get involved inside and outside of work. Engage in conversations with others.  Find ways to volunteer and contribute beyond your current job description. Exceed expectations. Help everyone around you succeed.

Click here to find out more information on the AICPA’s Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and its commitment to retaining and advancing women in the profession through initiatives such as the AICPA Online Mentoring Program, 2017 Women’s Global Leadership Summit and Women in the Profession Resources.  

Kimberly Drumgo, MBA, PMP, Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Women's History Month courtesy of Shutterstock.

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