International Women’s Day: Embracing equity, empowering others

In an episode to celebrate International Women’s Day, two profession leaders share instances of progress and the roles we all can play to embrace equity.

This episode of the FM podcast features two leaders in the accounting profession globally. Alicja Dworowska, ACMA, CGMA, is finance director at Thermo Fisher Scientific and also a coach and mentor. Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, is chief transformation officer at the firm BPM LLP and chair of the AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC).

Role models for all, Dworowska and Stevenson are passionate about advancing women in the profession. That passion came through in this conversation, recorded in February and published to celebrate International Women's Day. They spoke about mentorship.

In a previous podcast conversation, Stevenson mentioned the energy she felt at the 2022 AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit in Miami. This year's event is scheduled for November in Phoenix.

Other resources:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • The professional and volunteer roles of both speakers.
  • Why social and cultural norms can sometimes hold women back.
  • How the momentum and excitement of one day focusing on women can be carried over to real change the rest of the year.
  • Stevenson's explanation of "we don't succeed unless we do it together".
  • What stood out to Dworowska about recent mentoring sessions.
  • The advice Stevenson and Dworowska offer to accounting professionals.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome to the FM magazine podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. This is a special episode to be aired on International Women's Day. That's March 8, 2023. I'm joined by two leaders in the profession, Lindsay Stevenson in the US and Alicja Dworowska in Poland. I'm hoping you can first introduce yourselves a little bit to the audience, and then we'll proceed with our conversation today. First, Lindsay, welcome.

Lindsay Stevenson: Thank you, Neil. It's great to be with you again. I'm Lindsay Stevenson. I'm the chief transformation officer at BPM LLP, a large US-based firm, although we do have offices in other global locations. I'm excited to have Alicja here, and I'm just super excited to be here. I'm chair of the [Women's Initiatives Executive Committee]. I'm always excited anytime we can have conversations about women in the profession.

Alicja Dworowska: Let me introduce myself as well. My name is Alicja Dworowska. I'm a CIMA associate, and I've been involved in various CIMA initiatives for many years. I teach business ethics and corporate governance as part of CIMA curriculum. I'm also a mentor of CIMA students, and I recently led a series of workshops for women that I organised together with CIMA. At my daily job, I work as finance director at Thermo Fisher Scientific, and I'm also a professional coach. I coach individuals, and I organise trainings and workshops.

Amato: Great. Thank you for that. I'm going to start with this. I'm going to go back to about a year ago when I asked Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, who's a former Association of International Certified Professional Accountants chair, this very question for a podcast episode: What does this day, International Women's Day, mean to you?

Dworowska: Let me start. International Women's Day has been actually celebrated since 1911 and, although over 100 years have passed, we still need a call to action in order to celebrate women's achievements and accelerate women's equality. For me, personally, March 8 is a reminder that we women have a very active role to play in order to build our brands. Women are creating an invaluable impact on society that is unfortunately often not appreciated enough because we women have these cultural and social norms [carved] into our way of thinking to such an extent that we often struggle to speak about our achievements in an authentic and positive way.

We define ourselves for different roles that we carry in society. For example, business roles such as accountant, manager, director, but also personal roles that we have: wife, mom, partner, and so on. But we often struggle to answer a very simple question: Who am I, and what do I really want to do in my life? In order to answer these questions, there is some work to be done on an individual basis that is bringing these answers to the light. I've been working as a professional coach with many women, and they know that the moment when they discover the real self is often the breakthrough for them. Because from this very moment, they start really to increase their energy and their self-agency to start doing the things that they really love.

Stevenson: That was a great, fantastic response, and I couldn't agree with you more. I think what's interesting, I think globally even more than it has historically been, is this day is an opportunity for us to look at all of the women that are not only in the accounting profession but in many other professions, and they're trailblazing and leading the way in terms of how we talk about women in professions and, to Alicja's point, all of the roles, all of the hats that we wear as women becomes really challenging to manage that and navigate that. This day gives us that opportunity to say, let's just take a minute and celebrate everything that has come before today and look toward the future of what else can we do.

If you're a John O'Leary fan, he asked this question, what more can I do? I think International Women's Day gives us a chance to look around and say, man, what more can I do? There's women that maybe feel like they don't have the same opportunities. We've been so lucky here in the US. The needle has been moving. It might be slow, but it has been moving, and so an opportunity to look internationally and say what more can I do? How can I make sure that my sister across the pond or my sister down south feels the same empowerment, the same opportunity, the same excitement and inspiration for moving forward and taking that next step. What more can I do? I think that's the excitement around this day.

Amato: This day — it's one day, March 8, on the calendar. How can the accounting profession or business as a whole go from the good feelings and good ideas generated from this one day and make a difference in creating environments that truly are equitable and not forgotten the other 364 days of the year?

Dworowska: I'm personally a big fan of coaching and mentoring activities. In my opinion, the organisations should be offering not only technical trainings in accounting but also start widening opportunities for coaching and mentoring sessions on an individual basis for both women and men. Because thanks to such sessions, actually the coaches can have a very positive impact on themselves but also on organisations. In particular with women, I've seen it many, many times that women in order to take important steps in their career or to make an important change in their life, they actually need someone or somebody in the organisation to blow their wings.

We need this encouragement as otherwise, especially women, we have this imposter syndrome in ourselves that's often called also "inner critic" that can keep us [in a holding pattern] for many, many years. Of course, there is never, ever the best time or the right time to start, and there never will be actually. That's why it's so important to just start to have somebody to help you and just start and tell yourself, I recognise that I may be scared, but I do want to make an impact. I do want to move forward because I know my personal value.

Amato: Lindsay, anything to add there?

Stevenson: Yes. One, Alicja, I am in love with everything that you're talking about, and I couldn't agree with you more. There is so much value in this day helping us to see each other. That's such a big part of our ability to take what happens on this day, what we talk about, how we feel about it, and continue to drive momentum forward, because we have each other and I think all of us would agree that we get more done, that we accomplish more, that we feel more satisfied when we are doing it together. That opportunity for us to look around on this day in particular and say, I see you and I feel what you feel and I understand what you are going through, and we can do this together, we can move forward together.

The steps, the things that we can do to make sure that that feeling doesn't go away, that connectedness are easy, simple things. I think last year, our hashtag was break the bias. We spent a lot of time trying to put that out all year long, every day, and it carried all the way through to the Women's Summit. It was really this warrior cry of together we break the bias, and we use that every time we think of something cool that happened.

We put it out on social media. Like, "Today I got promoted after working harder than I've ever worked in my life, hashtag break the bias." There's just such an opportunity there for us to continue to see each other, to call each other out, to form those connections. Because that's really what moves the needle. I think what has happened in the last 100-plus years since the first International Women's Day, think of what we're celebrating in 2023 compared to what they were celebrating the very first year in 1911. We've made leaps and bounds of what's happened. That's because of those little incremental, everyday "Wow, we can do this together."

Amato: Lindsay, you mentioned the Women's Global Leadership Summit. I guess that was November in Miami, and I've talked to you a few months back, a month after that, I guess December in Austin [Texas] about the Women's Summit. At that event, you mentioned that men were also there learning and listening. I want to ask you why you think that's important. I guess by that, I mean, does the goal, the theme of "embrace equity" for this year's International Women's Day have to be something that men, who still hold a large majority of leadership positions, embrace as well?

Stevenson: Absolutely. It's the same conversation, whether it's men or women. We don't succeed unless we do it together. There's only so much one person can do. Yes, individually, you can influence and impact your space. But I think, what Alicja was talking about before, her coaching and mentoring with women and opening up that opportunity, that thought process of "I can do something more." As soon as you get two people that say we can do something more, then you get four people that say, "Wow, we could all do something more." That includes men. It's not just women leading the charge. They may be the one saying, "Hey, do you see me?"

But it takes men, who are, I think, the majority of decision-makers still in the profession, to say, "Hey, we see you, too, and we want to do this with you. We see your value, we see your impact." We say the same thing. I looked to all of my male mentors and say, "Gosh, the things that you have done to change the world, to change the profession are so inspiring." I want to learn from you. It's never just women need to go do this, or men need to pave the way. It's together we need to figure out the way forward so that everyone has the same equitable opportunities.

Amato: I want to talk some about your approach to mentoring young professionals. Alicja, in particular, I read that you've led workshops for CIMA students. What are some of the moments in those workshops that have been memorable to you?

Dworowska: First, let me just touch on how mentoring activities have changed over the last few years. I can see a big difference because of the pandemic and also how mentees are approaching mentoring right now. Young people understood that the values have changed for them. They are not so much concentrated on the work. They are concentrated on their own wellbeing and families. As a matter of fact, old management frameworks that we've been teaching them for many years are not valid anymore.

My approach has changed into teaching and paving the way for young people in order to reach a position of a connected leader. A connected leader, as I understand it, is somebody that is embracing both confidence and competence with their own vulnerability and wholeheartedness. This is what I see that is actually needed in today's world. You've also asked me, Neil, about the workshops that I was having for CIMA.

I must say that it was a really great experience, both for me but also for the participants. Because initially, we assumed that it would have been only a workshop held once during International Women's Day. But actually when we announced it, we saw such a big interest from both CIMA students and members. That's the workshops lasted for two months, and there were at least eight workshops organised altogether.

The most exciting moment for me was to actually hear the stories of women who finally had the opportunity to speak openly about the struggles and fears at their workplace. But also what's more important, they could train their own new powerful version of themselves during these workshops. I was really glad to hear and to read the emails, see on LinkedIn the information about the progress and the growth that these women have made immediately after the workshops. In fact, I'm in touch with many of them up to today. I'm delighted to observe the growth and the accomplishments that they are achieving every day.

Amato: Well, that's great to hear about the growth and the enthusiasm around those. Lindsay, do you want to say anything more about that or do you want me to go to closing thoughts for each of you?

Stevenson: Alicja, you're a rock star, just to have that on record. Anyways. OK. Yes we can go to closing.

Amato: I'll keep that part in. This has been a fantastic conversation. As a closing thought, anything in particular you'd like to add, perhaps maybe some advice you'd give to fellow women in the accounting profession?

Stevenson: Well, I would just say, based on what Alicja shared in terms of what young, new professionals are looking for, what they're seeking, that support and that guidance is different than what it's ever been before. I would just encourage all the women already in the profession to really think about empowering and emboldening and helping women uncover what is their power base, what is their strength, and really focusing in on how they can utilise that to show up as their own unique self.

Gone are the times where we say, I have to learn how to play golf so I can do business. Gone are the times when we say we have to learn how to talk about sports or talk about whatever we see as a male-dominated discussion. Instead, we're really leaning into this idea of you can show up, your authentically you, and really bring something unique to the table, and all of us women already in the profession should be doing everything we can to help them identify that, grow it, utilise it, and really be championing them.

When we talk to our male colleagues who are the same professional level that we are, we should be encouraging them to see it. To see those opportunities to say, "Yeah, you may have a great male colleague, and this is what he's really amazing at, and here's this woman colleague, and this is what she's really amazing at," and both of those are great. They don't need to be the same. They don't all have to follow the same path. They don't have to look the same, they don't have to act the same. If you're in the profession and you're in leadership, I really just encourage you to see who we have coming up in the profession and really empower them to show up as their authentic self because the results you're going to get will blow your mind. They will blow your mind.

Dworowska: Yeah, I would just maybe add to what Lindsay said. It was actually a great summary, Lindsay, so congratulations on this. To all the women around the world in the profession, but not only in the profession, start believing in yourselves. Leave all the false modesty norms behind you, and start talking about your projects and achievements with such an enthusiasm and positivity that it'll inspire all the women around the world. Just go for it.

Amato: That's great. To borrow Lindsay's phrase earlier, you're both rock stars. And thank you so much for your time on the podcast today. Again, we appreciate those two leaders in the accounting profession, Alicja Dworowska and Lindsay Stevenson. In the show notes for this episode, we'll include resources related to International Women's Day. This is Neil Amato. Thanks for listening to the FM podcast.