NYSSCPA Past President Gail M. McIntyre Looks Back on How the Profession Has Changed for Women

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 18, 2019

Gail McIntyre
Gail M. McIntyre


This year, Ita M. Rahilly will become the 100th president of the NYSSCPA, and its eighth female president since the Society was founded over a century ago. Her installation will take place during a time of rapid change for both the profession and the business world as a whole, particularly when it comes to the growing role of female leaders in the workplace. To kick off the year of the 100th president, The Trusted Professional has been interviewing some of the past female Society presidents about their own experiences navigating what has historically been a male-dominated profession, how things have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same. In the January/February issue, we featured past Society presidents Marilyn A. Pendergast, who served from 1994 to 1995, and Jo Ann Golden, who served from 2002 to 2003. In the March/April issue, we featured Sharon Sabba Fierstein, who served from 2008 to 2009.  In the May/June issue, we will feature Margaret A. Wood, who served from 2010 to 2011, and Gail M. McIntyre (formerly Kinsella), who served from 2012 to 2013. Here's the Q&A with Gail M. McIntyre

What led you to accounting as a career?

It was probably in high school, actually, when I had an opportunity to take some business classes along with my college prep curriculum. I really enjoyed the subject matter, so when I moved into the college phase, it was the field I wanted to be in—I liked the logic of the thought process, as well as the employment opportunities that came with the profession.

What was your first accounting job like, in terms of people’s attitudes and behaviors regarding women in the profession?

My experience was a bit mixed. There were some folks who would assume, say, that I’d always need the approval of the partner—who was always a man—to do anything. The flip side being that I worked with some gentlemen who didn’t have any real thought that there was any gender difference, so that was empowering. I didn’t, myself, give too much attention to a gender gap until I had been working for a few years and some other folks brought it to my attention, but, in general, it wasn’t really something that strongly resonated with me or framed how I looked at things. I think that has to do with my upbringing: My parents did not make any differentiation between myself and my brother, so there was no inherent division of duties or limitations on opportunity.  The message was clear: You are a unique person, and a capable one, so do your best and move forward.

From your own observation, when it comes to women in accounting, how far has the profession come since you first began? And, conversely, how far do you think it still needs to go?

From a numbers perspective, there are as many young women in programs, graduating and entering the profession as men, and that’s obviously a significant difference. We have women who are managing partners and hold key roles. But there are challenges unique to women, still. I don’t think it’s a glass ceiling per se, but, depending on the environment, I’m not certain that complete equity has been achieved. I say this because there’s still a conversation around these notions.

I believe it takes a generation for things to change, and though I’ve been in public accounting for more than 30 years, I think we’re just getting to that generational shift where true change can occur. Most of the youngest professionals we have on our staff don’t really have these same notions about gender. We’re just as likely to have a young man taking time off for family responsibilities as a young woman, for instance, though that’s not necessarily the case the higher up you go on the chain.

Another piece of the puzzle is that, and I find this interesting, some women who have been in the profession for a number of years, decades even, have no interest in creating either mentorships or particularly sponsorships for younger women because they feel like they had to do it the hard way and so everyone else should, too. This is a bit of a strange dynamic I’ve encountered over the last few years.

It’s odd in so many ways. We’ve moved forward, and gender is fairly irrelevant in a lot of places, but the impacts can still rear their head.

As you rose in your career, how important was networking and support from other women?

There were not many women in the profession in terms of leadership positions. Having said that, though, the women who were partners or principals or managers ahead of me were certainly very bright ladies—hardworking, very accomplished. They were as much a role model for me as anyone else I worked with. But still, there weren’t many, and I wouldn’t say I was driven by gender issues, and didn’t necessarily connect more with females in the profession.

Similarly, what role did male allies and mentors play?

Certainly, from a mentoring perspective, it was a predominantly male leadership space, so the mentors for me were men. My particular mentor was a very open-minded, equality-based individual. He had tremendous respect for his mother and her profession as well as those of her sisters, all of whom were also professionals, so for him it wasn’t strange to have someone on staff who was female. It wasn’t even a conversation. Having said that, there were some instances when he was clearly a defender or proponent—for example, by looking out for our safety when we walked around a client’s parking lot at night, and by making certain women as well as men were invited to the table at various networking events and introducing them to clients. So it was an interesting combination of no preconceived notions about whether women would perform differently but also an understanding that there were certain instances when, depending on the person, you extend some additional appropriate courtesies to your teammate.

While the differences have no doubt narrowed dramatically over the years, in what ways are the rules, norms and expectations still different for women when it comes to advancing one's career? I think, for example, of how confidence or authoritativeness can be perceived differently when coming from a man versus a woman.

Well, speaking from my own personal experience, I have been very fortunate to work within a firm where those issues haven’t been particularly at the forefront. I don’t really play to those topics much, in any event. But I would say men and women could probably be said to display our leadership skills differently. I think there’s the perception that women need to be more measured in order to not be judged harshly, whereas a male might be able to make certain remarks or give certain feedback in a way that might not be considered as negative.

But, again, I’ve been very fortunate in that—due in great part to my mindset and background, and the environment I work in—that this hasn’t really been an overarching issue.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in developing the next generation of female leadership? What is standing in the way of more female partners or even managing partners?

I think the biggest concern is perception. There is this perception that accounting is not a good fit for many people because it’s so difficult to raise a family, but based on my personal experience, I found I had a great deal of flexibility for that. There’s also this notion that everyone in public accounting works these long, grueling hours, and so maybe it’s better to go to a nonpublic position where there’s less pressure. I’m not sure that necessarily plays out in reality, but that’s definitely a perspective. So we have a long way to go in furthering that conversation as a profession.

A young woman just out of college, about to start her first accounting job, asks you for advice on how to be successful as a professional. What do you tell her?

Seek out a mentor and, more importantly, a sponsor. There is a difference. A mentor can help navigate a current path, but a sponsor is someone who will actively work with you and take a tangibly active role in providing access to new challenges and opportunities. You need a partner (in the public accounting space) who will go to bat for you and say, “This person can be a partner.” Any professional with aspirations must form relationships and communicate well, work hard and be dedicated to being the best professional you can be. Without that, none of the rest will happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to go over on this topic?

The 100th president being female is a great opportunity to highlight the concept of women in leadership. Hopefully, in the future, we won’t need an excuse to do that. I think it’s telling that, as of June, there will be seven female presidents in the last 15 years or so. This seems a shift in the leadership space for the Society. We’ve seen so many women with great personal drive creating a significant rebalancing in the leadership, which is probably reflective of the profession as a whole.  I hope to see the focus on diversity and inclusion continue to expand.

 

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