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Turn challenges of sheltering in place into opportunities

Shutterstock_489814966This pandemic has rocked our world and the digital accelerator was pushed to the floorboard. We’re not going back to business as usual before COVID-19, and this presents opportunities for women to propel our profession forward with expanded influence and leadership.

Relationship building

During this time, we’ve been invited into one another’s home and experienced one another’s personal daily lives. We’ve seen a host of previously unknown aspects of personal lives — each other’s homes, favorite T-shirts and PJs, and children and pets via Zoom bombs.

Our future will be one with reduced formality. Given that women have natural strengths at relationship building, I believe this is an opportunity to expand influence. The informality of professional meetings encourages a better understanding of differences in cultures and mindsets, which greatly enhances our ability to expand our social circles and cultivate new relationships.

Team members are experiencing more access to leadership due to telecommuting and a flattened hierarchy. This removes some legacy barriers and could allow women to leverage this new access and move into more leadership roles.

Digital networking

The new digital workplace has expanded and transformed networking with clients and coworkers. Digital networking is here to stay, and it’s not rooted in limited access. Virtual happy hours, book clubs, discussion forums and one-on-one mentoring/coaching are common, and offer opportunities for numerous connections and expansions across firms, organizations and geographies.

A person’s professional network directly impacts career opportunities — no one reaches their full potential alone. And for women, networking in the traditional sense has built-in barriers. Virtual networking means we have more freedom and accessibility to new allies across the company or across the globe. Capitalize on this! Join and help organize these events.

Flexibility

At a level we have never experienced before, the pandemic has required flexibility on where, when and how work is completed. Leaders everywhere are realizing that results are more important than time. This new, real flexibility is needed for our profession and makes firms more competitive for talented staff.

With greater understanding from leadership and flexibility as the new normal, women and anyone who loves our profession, no longer feel burdened by guilt for not towing the 7–7 shift or the 8–5 work day. A new normal — working individualized schedules from home — empowers people to integrate family priorities with client and team commitments. 

Women should not feel pressured to slow down their careers or to take personal time off due to conflicts of work and family. Women must be bold to use this time of teleworking to their advantage.  

Growth opportunities

The pandemic and related financial crisis has flattened the table for growth opportunities. Never, in my 40-year career, have I witnessed more opportunity to outlearn our competition and maximize relevance in our profession. 

There have been a lot of new things — technology, applications, software, ways of working, regulations, tax laws, client needs, strategies for business success, automation — with more to come. The opportunity is truly there for any woman who is willing to step into learning and sharing her new knowledge. Do you hear those glass ceilings shattering?

Our profession should promote and advocate for women professionals to seize this future view, choosing to overcome these real, but significantly diminished, legacy barriers. Let’s move past Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement and run into this opportunity together. Our profession is starving for more diverse teams to lead our clients and our nation out of this recession and into economic recovery. There are many resources available from the AICPA that can help you on your journey. We’ve got this!   

Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA; Executive Partner, Horne LLP and a member of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee.

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