Common themes in pivoting businesses through COVID-19

Wednesday, November 18, 2020
by Patty Mah

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Global Summit of Women in Accounting and Finance showcases women’s leadership and SAF’s global presence

Globally, 2020 has been a year of unanticipated decision-making as organizations pivoted to ensure business success, often with very tight timelines. With the common theme of the global pandemic as the driving force of these strategies, the School of Accounting and Finance leveraged its annual Women In Accounting and Finance event to invite five SAF alumni from across the globe to share their stories and insights in managing and pivoting their teams, organizations, and personal lives through the global pandemic.

Elaine Lee, BA '03, Senior Manager, Change Management Office, The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and President, UW SAF Alumni Association
Marking the eighth year of hosting the Women In Accounting and Finance event, the global pandemic provided an opportunity to engage a panel of alumni from Toronto, Boston, San Francisco, London UK, and the Netherlands. Moderated expertly by Elaine Lee, (BA ’03), Senior Manager, Change Management Office, The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and President, UW SAF Alumni Association, who kick started the event by noting the importance of female leadership and perspectives in business, “We need more stories of successes and leadership to continue to inspire young women to make a mark in fields that are traditionally dominated by men.”

Global leadership and role models

This year’s panelist discussion truly exemplified the leadership of SAF’s female graduates. The panelists spoke of strategies they each have implemented within their organizations and teams to stay connected remotely while ensuring that their teams continued to produce high quality work.

Siddhi Purohit, MAcc '08, Associate Portfolio Manager, European Equities, RBC Global Asset Management
Siddhi Purohit (MAcc ’08), Associate Portfolio Manager, European Equities, RBC Global Asset Management, London UK, spoke of staying connected with colleagues to maintain positivity, “What you don’t get is communication with other teams. So, we started having weekly office meetings and remain focused on the positive.” Siddhi implemented a “guess the workspace” virtual game for her team as a way to encourage and create connections between colleagues.

Shana Laurie de Hernandez, MAcc '98, Chair of the Board of PwC Europe
Shana Laurie de Hernandez, (MAcc ’98), Chair of the Board of PwC Europe, Netherlands, addressed the need for all organizations to shift strategy to ensure business success. “What is needed for businesses during this pandemic is changes to strategy and frameworks. We have to move from survival mode to strategy mode. We need to take a local and a global approach…a ‘no one size fits all’ approach.”

The gender challenge

The event was also timely as Canada and the US grapples with an additional negative effect of the pandemic with media spotlighting issues of gender and racial equality and diversity. Now, more than ever, aspiring professionals in under-represented industries and marginalized racial groups require role models and leadership to inspire young females from diverse backgrounds to succeed in today’s global economy.

Joanne Gutwinski, MAcc '14, MBA Candidate, Harvard Business School, Private Equity, Blackstone Group
Joanne Gutwinski (MAcc ’14), MBA Candidate, Harvard Business School and Private Equity, Blackstone Group, the youngest member of the panel spoke of her success strategy as a young aspiring female professional in finance, “I always want to surround myself at work with professionals – female or male – that I feel are more successful or accomplished than myself. This inspires and motivates me to continue to work towards my professional goals.” Joanne also re-evaluates her current role as well as roles she aspires to achieve each year to gauge whether it’s still exciting to her and worthy of working towards.

Michelle Lam, MAcc '01, Former Co-Founder and CEO, True & Co
Michelle Lam, (MAcc ’01), Former Co-Founder and CEO, True & Co, shared insights on how she didn’t have a career plan when she graduated. Instead, she reflected on her value system and how a young female guest speaker to one of her undergraduate courses inspired and motivated her to keep her career path open and to follow her passions. Michelle’s career has spanned across the tech industry to private equity, to start-ups, with each shift of her career being “a way to break boundaries but figure out what else was out there.”

The event touched on many aspects and challenges that still exist today for professional women. With a united goal to continue to move forward to create a world that’s equitable for all, the SAF and the University collectively support and provide opportunities and inspiration for young women to work and succeed in under-represented fields such as accounting and finance.

This event made me even that much prouder to be a UW grad and I am impressed by the caliber of our graduates, not only in what you have accomplished, but in how you look at the world.

The SAF is grateful to PwC for hosting this annual event for the last eight years. Special thanks to Betty Ann Jarrett (MAcc ’86), Global Human Capital and Partners Affair Leader, PwC for bringing greetings on behalf of PwC.