NYSSCPA Past President Jo Ann Golden Looks Back on How the Profession Has Changed for Women

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 13, 2019

Jo Ann Golden
Jo Ann Golden

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 Jo Ann Golden.

What led you to choose accounting as a career?

It was really a career I chose in midlife. As a math major, my first job out of college was as a junior high math teacher. Following a  “traditional” path at the time, I left teaching to raise my kids. While my kids were young, I volunteered as a child advocate, which led to a career as executive director of a  not-for-profit concentrating on advocacy for children. One of the things we did was analysis of community needs and efficient ways to deliver children’s services. Numbers were always a part of that, looking at the dollars and cents, evaluating community budgets and more. The other piece of that was managing the grants we received; I loved the accounting aspect of that, and so I started taking classes at a local college and ended up leaving my job and going to school full time to get my second degree, [this time] in accounting.

At that time, the requirement to be a CPA was a bachelor’s degree and a two-year work experience under a public accountant (CPA or PA). I then went to work for my father [who was a licensed public accountant]. Although I loved working with my father, I needed more experience in audit/attest practice,  so I also  worked for several local firms. After a time, I opened my own practice and, subsequently, I was invited to merge my practice into a regional firm.

As I started the whole process, I had kids in high school—it was my early 40s when I made my change in careers—and it was definitely a choice that I went into with a full understanding of what it meant and the kinds of things I was going to be involved in.

So you took a less conventional path than “go to college, join a firm, work your way to partner.” How did this affect the arc of your accounting career?

I think, because I came up through the path that I did, I had a broader career and life experience than a lot of people. … I could come into the profession with the understanding of how governance worked, how business worked, because I had experienced it. I became an accountant when I was older and more mature, and it wasn’t about becoming an accountant because it just seemed right; it really was a desire to be part of this profession.

You’ve also served on a variety of corporate boards. How does that experience, when dealing with nominal peers, differ from the experience of working your way up through the ranks as an accountant?

In my experience, I was the first woman to come onto the board of  CONMED Corporation, a public company, and I was the only woman there for probably 12 or 13 years. There were lots of “old-school guys”—and me. It took many years, but I did serve as the first woman chair of the audit committee.  In addition, I was invited to serve on the board of a bank  and  was also the first woman to become chair of the bank’s audit committee. … I was always treated very courteously, but I think, somehow, to earn respect, it takes a little more for the women involved, and that’s the difficulty women are facing now. … I think there’s still this attitude—and it’s a subtle attitude—that you run into many times: You have to prove your worth, that you’re as good as the guys. It was what may have been described years ago as a good old boys’ network.

So then, how did you respond to this attitude?

Here’s the thing: Having just served as president of the NYSSCPA, I had the current knowledge. I came in with the understanding of what Sarbanes-Oxley was all about, I had the understanding of what the new rules were about. It was the same thing with the bank: I was bringing my perspective, my public company experience, to the bank, which was growing and was going to have to comply with new rules and regulations. I understood those. If you can bring your knowledge and impart it and do it in a way that can generate discussion, if you can help be part of the discussion, I think that can help women be an integral part of a group, even though they are the minority in that group.

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

Obviously, you have to know your “stuff”; you have to be concerned about the fact that your professional knowledge is very well honed, but also, I would say, understanding firm dynamics is really critical because you’re going to be working with the various types of personalities that people have. This is part of becoming a good communicator—understanding people and their psychology and the sociology of the community you’re in, and the group dynamics that occur. Part of that is understanding how the pecking order works and understanding that a pecking order is not by itself terrible; it’s just the fact that you’re coming in as a beginner. I must say that my involvement on the Board of the New York State Society of CPAs and my committee work have been invaluable, in this regard.

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