By Maureen Renzi, vice president, communications
It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in leadership roles in accounting firms and in boardrooms. But there are many bright stars who are members of the PICPA. We initiated the Women to Watch program in conjunction with the AICPA’s Women’s Initiative Executive Committee to elevate the accomplishments of these female CPAs. Women to Watch recipients have been recognized for their personal success and commitment to fostering the success of others. I spoke with Bandana Jha, one of the 2018 recipients, to provide some insight into what her experiences have been as a chief financial officer and chief operating officer.
Have you ever been the only woman at a board table, and has this influenced your effectiveness?
There is a definite underrepresentation of women in board-level decisions, but luckily it has not negatively impacted my effectiveness. I leverage my corporate finance and CPA skillset to take a data-driven approach to my decisions and recommendations. Often decisions are informed by those fact-driven assessments. But we can always do better. The comprehensiveness of a fact pattern depends on who's looking at it, and the more women and other factors representing diversity of thought, the better.
How important is it to build alliances? Do they need to be with other women?
It's very important to build alliances that encompass your ideas, passions, and, most importantly, values. Gender was never a driver for me. My first boss was a woman and my lifetime mentors are two men. If your approach is values-based, your alliances and mentors can span genders to include people who can be unbiased and fair. That said, I try to forge alliances with junior women to make sure that they have a senior female sponsor at all times.
You are a proponent of an open-door policy when it comes to obtaining feedback from your employees. How does that work and how do you manage interruptions?
As a leader, your job is to make sure that the bulk of decisions are made with fairness and accuracy. If you only rely on a chosen few decision makers, you risk compromising the quality of those decisions. That's why I insist on an open-door policy and promote ongoing communication with employees. I find this is especially important for new employees so they feel part of the team from the start. Of course, you have to set some guidelines about hours so you can get your work done as well.
Understanding company policies and job responsibilities is one thing; recognizing the political environment and successfully navigating that is something different. Are there certain skills or traits that can help women advance in a male-dominated industry?
Navigating political currents in a company is hard, yet it is critical for success. It's hard for men and women alike, though some men and women find it easier than others. To me, it's important to build value and purpose-based alliances, and let the rest fall where it may. This has helped me in my career. Hopefully, it will help other women - and men - too.
You have mentored many individuals in your career. What makes for a successful mentoring relationship?
It is a honor to be a mentor to those who choose you. A successful mentoring relationship is about getting to know your mentee, finding out what is most important to them, and helping them unlock their potential. Every mentoring relationship is different, but I tend to do three things for my mentees. First, I encourage them to engage in self-reflection, and advise them that any struggles should be viewed as an opportunity to build character. Second, I try to always be there for my mentee. After all, the mentoring relationship is a journey that mentor and mentee travel together. Finally, I'm honest with my mentee. If I think they need to improve in certain areas, I tell them plainly.
The PICPA is currently accepting nominations for the 2019 Women to Watch recognition. To meet all the 2018 recipients and find out more about the award, visit www.picpa.org/womentowatch. The nomination deadline is Jan. 31.
Bandana Jha, CPA, is a recipient of PICPA’s 2018 Women to Watch Award and was named a “CFO of the Year” by the Philadelphia Business Journal in 2017 for her work as COO and CFO of Urologic Consultants of Southeastern Pennsylvania.