The Massachusetts Society of CPAs announced the seven recipients of the 2022 Women to Watch Awards and will honor winners on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at the MassCPAs’ Women’s Leadership Summit.
In partnership with the Association of International CPAs Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, a panel of judges selected seven female leaders based on their contributions to their firm, clients and community, as well as the accounting profession. The awards were separated into three categories between Emerging Leaders, Experienced Leaders and an inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, which was specifically created for this year’s honoree.
“We’re hoping to give the profession an extra push to recognize and celebrate women’s achievements, but also to bring them to leadership roles,” said Amy Pitter, president and CEO of MassCPAs. “This is a group of women that I deeply admire, and I’m grateful that young girls wanting to enter the profession will now have role models to aspire to.”
Pitter herself joined the accounting industry in 1979, at a time when there were almost no women pursuing an accounting degree and joining one of the Big Four. She said that the Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee came from a desire of women to advance in a male-dominated industry, and that female leaders joined forces in 2009 to create the collective. Two decades later, the number of applications for the Women to Watch Awards is as high as ever, and the committee received more than 35 nominations this year.
The CEO believes it’s because women’s concerns have slowly become human rights issues, and that more people now want to prioritize their families. Pitter says that wanting a real work-life balance was a disadvantage back in the 1980s, and that men were more easily promoted because they were expected to work longer hours. Women now make up 61.7% of the accounting workforce, and the number of women achieving leadership positions grew by 6% since 2014, especially since certain firms allowed partners to work part-time.
“The profession should reflect the marketplace and its clients, but the profession seems to be having a lot of trouble promoting women at senior levels,” said Pitter. “It has been very frustrating to watch the numbers stagnate for so many years, but we finally reached 25% [for women in leadership roles], and I think it happens because of initiatives like the Women to Watch awards.”
Merrill Puopolo, who received the Life Achievement Award, went against the odds when she became a partner at 33. She watched in frustration as she saw talented women leaving for other industries, and Puopolo believes that gaps in the accounting industry are to blame. The managing director says the 150-hour requirement is a costly and discriminatory barrier to those wishing to become accountants, especially women. Puopolo says that many female professionals juggling their family, certification and work life grow disgusted with the discipline and leave the firm after a year.
Now a chairperson at MassCPAs after working at the organization for 15 years, Puopolo is ready to retire and was nominated by members of the Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee for her lifelong commitment to the accounting profession. One of her most striking memories was when she first joined the board of MassCPAs and was one of the few women at the table. She got noticed that day for daring to ask a question while the chairman was going through the agenda, and that’s when Puopolo knew that being bold always brought results.
“You don’t need to come as a know-it-all, but as someone who can give back to their team,” said Puopolo. “Technically, you can get around with basic knowledge, but the difference is getting involved, using your voice, and asking a lot of questions.”
Kayla Ducharme, 26, has been following the awards since she was pursuing an accounting degree at Bentley University. After taking the CPA exam, Ducharme moved to KPMG where she currently works as a senior associate in audit asset management practice. A member of the KPMG Network of Women and Leadership Council who strengthens alliances between women across the firm, Ducharme was selected as one of the Emerging Leaders.
The audit senior associate is a multitasker who volunteers at the Malden Warming Center, which provides shelter for the homeless in wintertime, and leads a book club as a co-chair, where women from multiple industries or advisory groups come to talk. Recently promoted, Ducharme attributes most of her success to her mentors and business resource groups, which allowed her to reach out to professionals at associate levels and approach her first filing season as a manager. She believes that a true leader is someone who can motivate their team and communicate effectively while remaining authentic.
For Janine Danielson, who won the Experienced Leader award, it’s about giving more than you get, striving for improvement, meeting employees where they are and getting the facts. But mostly, it’s all about people.
“I attribute all my success to the support of my family, friends, colleagues, partners and peers,” said Danielson. “I have a wonderful group of friends in my profession from Bentley University along with my partner group and our Rockstar team members at LGA who have made a huge difference in my career. To continue to give back to this group and our clients provides wonderful satisfaction to me.”
Danielson became a CPA in 1989 to join LGA LLP, a 140-people firm in Woburn, Massachusetts. Now a managing director of outsourced management accounting, Danielson didn’t know that she was a Women to Watch honoree until she was notified, which comes as a great reward after a 30-year career. She says that she always gravitated to numbers and that it was an accounting professor in high school who introduced her to the profession, before she gained a great support system at Bentley University.
However, it’s at LGA that Danielson blossomed and found people who helped her become a better professional. Her dedication to the firm also comes from the firm’s commitment to promoting gender diversity with actual plans of action, not only words, and Danielson believes that’s what will truly help women achieve their goals. For example, the firm’s women’s affinity group includes a male member who wanted to participate and help find solutions.
“It was a male-dominated profession back then, but it didn’t discourage me,” said Danielson. “We just needed women to believe in themselves and for all to support and believe in them. If women and men work together to strengthen the diversity of our profession, we can continue this conversation to make great strides in strengthening the future of our profession.”