On November 18th, 2021, I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Top Women in Finance event at The Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. The annual event is hosted by Finance & Commerce magazine to recognize women’s outstanding contributions and dedication to their profession, communities, and society. The Finance & Commerce Top Women in Finance awards honor industry-leading executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs in the financial sector who lead the way for all women looking to enter finance and succeed in it. The 2021 award ceremony marked the 20th anniversary of the event, which presented an excellent time for reflection on how far we’ve come and how much left there is to do.

The Importance of Recognizing Women Leaders

The Top Women in Finance awards are particularly important to me because of what they represent. They bring to light the gaps in our field, even after 20 years of change since Finance & Commerce created the awards. Gender equality in the workplace is an important goal that society strives to achieve. Although women outnumber men in the finance and banking industry, the reverse is true for senior positions. Women account for only 23% of executives. Where men take 6.6 years to get promoted, women take around 7.4 years. The differences are stark, but the gap is shrinking. The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) reports that more than 11.6 million firms are owned by women. This accounts for 39% of all privately held firms in the United States.

Although we’re striving for an equal 50-50 split, 39% is still an improvement from where it’s been. This number doesn’t tell the whole story, however. With 39% of privately-held firms being led by women, the same firms only account for 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues. While that is in the finance world as a whole, the statistics are even more alarming when focused on accounting and CPA firms specifically. According to Catalyst.org, more than 61% of all accountants are women, yet just 27% make up partners at a CPA firm. These figures show that we still have a long way to go before there’s true gender equality in the workplace, especially regarding leaders. This is why opportunities for recognition are so important and why it’s such an honor to be a recipient.

When Hard Work and Dedication Pays Off

Being nominated goes beyond what just happens between the hours of 9 to 5. It focuses on contributions that go well beyond the bottom dollar and proves the hard work and dedication have paid off. I’ve led my team through COVID-19 while overseeing significant structural changes in my organization. Since then, I’ve doubled the size of my team (and business as a whole). Sure, there were obstacles in the way – but they created a stronger, more vulnerable leader who brought her team alongside her. Times were tough, but I always made sure I was fearlessly leading the way. One of my biggest accomplishments is leaning into the struggle, falling down, and getting back up. This could be said about several different times in my life, and I’ve gotten back up stronger, more resilient, and more humbled every time.

Amid large changes in my life and my company, I continued to volunteer within my community, including being a board member of several organizations. Giving back to my community is one of my biggest motivators because I didn’t get here on my own. I’m forever grateful for my family, friends, mentors, and peers who continuously poured time and energy into my passions. I want to give back to others in the same way.

Being honored was something that goes beyond checking a box and throwing a name in the hat. These women recognized in the past are change-makers, and new change-makers will enter the scene and follow in our footsteps. They’re women who have the tenacity to brave paths and continue through the nay-sayers and statistics that would dishearten most. I am honored to have stood on stage with them.

Women Leaders Are Role Models

If there weren’t other women who had forged paths into the finance industry, I might not be in the spot I am today. Women leaders have accomplished extraordinary things. They lead hundreds of people, manage millions (and even billions) of dollars, and oversee exponential growth in their organizations. Thanks to their unrelenting passion for influencing change, these women are leading the way for others and blazing paths that won’t ever close again. Success comes from ambition, which is cultivated at a young age through role models and mentors. Because of this, it’s crucial to promote and recognize industry shakers that are willing to go against the grain. Women leaders are worth more to finance than just leading a successful company – they are beacons of hope that can inspire a generation of girls to pick up where they left off.