AFWA Helps Women Advance their Careers in Financial Fields through Networking Opportunities and Professional Resources

AFWA Helps Women Advance their Careers in Financial Fields through Networking Opportunities and Professional Resources
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Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: October 1, 2019
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In a Nutshell: The Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance is on a mission to support and advance the role of women in finance-related fields. The organization offers membership options for professionals, students, and corporations in more than 50 chapters across the United States. And AFWA events — including its annual Women Who Count Conference — allow members to network and pursue continuing education opportunities. The alliance’s Find a Pro database also helps members connect with those who need services, and AFWA is planning more initiatives to help women move into leadership positions.

According to research from Catalyst.org, more than 60% of accountants in the U.S. are women, and they make up 51% of the full-time staff at CPA firms. And in 2018, women represented 47% of directors and 46% of senior managers at CPA companies.

But despite these encouraging numbers, women account for only 24% of partners and principals, and just 15% of lead engagement partners auditing S&P 500 companies are women.

In the related field of finance, Forbes reports similar numbers. While women make up 46% of financial services employees, they constitute only about 15% of executive-level personnel.

Those numbers provide evidence that women have made great strides toward equality and representation in those fields since 1938 — the year Ida Broo founded the American Society of Women Accountants. But they still have a long way to go to break into the higher ranks.

The Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) — the modern iteration of Broo’s ASWA — helps grow those numbers through its initiatives, and is looking to usher in a brighter future for women in these fields.

AFWA logo and photo of National President Karyn Hartke

Karyn Hartke, Immediate Past National President of AFWA, spoke with us about the alliance’s mission.

“Our tagline for AFWA is: Connect, Advance, Lead,” said Karyn Hartke, Immediate Past National President of AFWA. “The connections they make with potential mentors and other professionals have many benefits. We support women in advancing in their careers, and our members have an amazing opportunity for leadership — both within their local chapters as well as nationally.”

AFWA is dedicated to the advancement of female accountants and financial professionals in a variety of fields. And the organization provides plenty of resources and opportunities to support member ambitions in many industries.

The alliance stands ready to help women develop their careers, expand their businesses, become leaders, and achieve the success they desire — both personally and professionally.

Members Can Access Continuing Education, Networking, and Other Valuable Benefits

AFWA’s membership primarily comprises women who work in accounting, but it also includes those in finance — CFPs, CTAs, CMAs, and EAs. Members can join one of the more than 50 chapters located across the United States, or elect to be a member at large.

Student memberships are available to young women preparing for careers as well as to non-traditional students planning to make a career change. And both of these groups can avail themselves to scholarship opportunities from AFWA.

The organization also offers corporate memberships, available to companies that enroll five or more employees at one time. Those businesses receive national recognition, and their employee members enjoy discounted rates on dues as well as additional benefits based on the number of women enrolled.

“We have chapters based in different states, and we also have a group of members at large,” Hartke said. “We try to ensure we have offerings no matter whether you’re in a chapter or not.”

All membership levels receive the same range of official benefits. These include continuing professional education (CPE) at local chapters, national webinars, and invitations to annual conferences. They also have access to discounts on everything from office supplies to accommodations and entertainment through its corporate sponsors.

Additionally, members also enjoy access to a network of other successful professionals. Members can meet and learn from other women in accounting and finance, establish themselves within a personal and professional support group. They can also get involved with local chapters and the national committee to gain valuable leadership experience. All of which can help pave the way for broader success in these fields.

Events Help Women Connect, Learn, and Grow in a Supportive Setting

Members can attend a variety of helpful events, including professional presentations, and opportunities to network in casual settings, including painting lessons, wine tastings, trivia nights, and other recreational activities.

AFWA’s foremost educational and networking event is its annual Women Who Count Conference. The conference offers attendees a range of seminars that cover current events, including tax reform and the impact of AI in the workplace as well as career advancement, business expansion, and branding. At the 2019 conference, scheduled for October 21-23 2019 in Orlando, AFWA members will have access to 21 hours of CPE.

Screenshot of Women Who Count Conference banner

The Women Who Count Conference includes the Career Development Center for professional counseling.

“We cover a nice split of technical and nontechnical topics,” said Cindy Stanley, AFWA Executive Director. “We have sessions on taxes, accounting, and auditing, but we also have sessions on leadership, communication, management, and building strong teams. We have a nice mix on both sides. Everyone can find some topic they’re interested in.”

Conference attendees can also visit the Career Development Center for consultation and counseling on a variety of professional topics, including interviews, resumés, salary negotiation, and hiring.

Another highlight of the conference is the Women Who Count Awards ceremony. There, AFWA will recognize women who exemplify empowerment, leadership, integrity, and passion — the cornerstones of the organization’s mission and ambition of women who work in accounting and finance.

Find a Pro Directory Allows Professionals to Connect with Clients and Expand their Businesses

The alliance also maintains the Find a Pro national directory, which enables members to connect with potential clients.

“Anyone can go to our website if they’re looking for a professional in their area,” said AFWA National President. “That gives them another cost-effective way to promote their business.”

AFWA established the Find a Pro directory in response to a high volume of inquiries to its headquarters for leads to accountants and financial professionals. Per its policy, AFWA didn’t distribute the private information of its members. So the organization created Find a Pro to help those members find new clients, expand their businesses, and increase their earnings.

“Often, there was a great interest from women calling, saying ‘I want a female accountant to help me with my business or personal needs,’” Stanley said. “So we launched this directory as an optional benefit for our members.”

Screenshot of Find a Pro directory banner

AFWA members can join the Find a Pro directory to connect with those who need their services.

AFWA members opt in to have their information included in the directory. Through Find a Pro, members can help people in their communities meet a wide range of needs, including accounting, financial planning, bookkeeping, tax preparation and filing, and retirement planning.

“It is a pretty popular feature on our website,” Stanley said. “The calls I get have gone down. I think that’s because they’re finding the information on the website faster. And we have more and more of our members opting in all the time.”

AFWA: Leadership Focus Will Help Women Flourish in Accounting and Finance

The AFWA rebranded from the ASWA to expand its reach beyond accounting and offer benefits to women working in other finance-related professions.

“We changed our name back in 2013, and that opened up our organization to so many more individuals on the finance and financial services side,” Stanley said.

Although statistics show that the percentage of women in these professions is increasing, women are still in the minority in essential leadership roles. That’s why AFWA focuses on training and advocating for women to move into these positions. That impetus will help to create more opportunities for women working in — or aspiring to work in — these fields.

It starts with developing a research academy which will likely take place in the spring, according to Hartke. AFWA also plans to offer an online leadership program in partnership with a virtual training platform oGoLead.a

“Because there aren’t a lot of women in those upper leadership levels, it can be hard to find a mentor within your own company,” Mangan said. “With AFWA, you can reach out to other women who took similar career paths, and they can help you find what different paths are available to you. Even if you don’t have that resource in your own company, that’s what you can get out of AFWA.”