‘It’s critical to have diverse representation at the table’
From left: Kamille Español, Janice Fukakusa and Jenny Okonkwo (Images provided)
In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8, we spoke with three CPAs at different stages of their careers to share insights on their accomplishments, challenges and future opportunities.
A recent recipient of the Order of Canada and an FCPA with over 30 years of experience, Janice Fukakusa is the chancellor of Ryerson University. She was previously RBC’s Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer.
Jenny Okonkwo, president of Transform Consulting Inc. and founder of the Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN), earned her CPA designation through a mutual recognition agreement in 2014, after she immigrated to Canada as an internationally-trained accountant.
Kamille Español, a winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the highest standing on the May 2021 CFE, is a financial reporting accountant at Ovintiv in Calgary.
CPA CANADA: WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU EXPERIENCE STARTING OUT?
Janice Fukakusa (JF): The challenges were the same many women face in the profession: balancing workloads and long hours with exams. Then I was finishing my MBA and CPA credits while working in auditing at the same time.
Jenny Okonkwo (JO): It was the lack of role models in the top layers of the profession. Even though enrolment was fifty-fifty when I was starting out, there were very few women in CFO, finance director type roles.
Kamille Español (KE): My biggest challenge was feeling unheard in the workplace—not because colleagues or leaders didn’t listen to me, but because I didn’t feel confident enough to share my ideas with people who were more senior than me.
CPA CANADA: WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE BEEN UNIQUE TO YOU IN THE CPA PROFESSION?
JF: For me it was all sorts of things, such as seasonal work, being unable to plan your days because of longer hours. When I started a family, the hours became too onerous, so I decided to move into banking.
JO: It can be a huge challenge for immigrant professionals to reconnect with their careers at the same level. I am pleased that BFAN has been successful in helping some of its members in that regard. Accountants in marginalized or underrepresented groups have additional challenges aside from gender.
KE: I’m pretty new to the profession, but I do remember that, even though my classes were fifty-fifty male/female, males tended to be more vocal in contributing to discussions.
CPA CANADA: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST MEANINGFUL SUCCESSES IN YOUR CAREER?
JF: It was passing the CPA exams and becoming the first female and first diverse person to be named CFO of RBC. Another real honour was receiving the Order of Canada. It was a great surprise.
JO: Growth in my public speaking portfolio, co-authoring 21 Resilient Women and creating and launching the BIPOC Women CPA Summit program last year that focused on helping BIPOC women CPAs brand themselves for professional advancement in the workplace.
KE: The Governor General’s Gold Medal was the most exciting success I have had. At work, the most meaningful success is being able to contribute to the company in both financial reporting and internal auditing roles.
CPA CANADA: WHAT POSITIVE CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN FOR WOMEN IN THE PROFESSION DURING YOUR CAREER?
JF: I’m glad to see there’s a better balance and support for women in the profession. Also, we are seeing a lot more diverse representation. It’s critical to have that at the table.
JO: Definitely, the networking forums. There are many more events that now cater to the needs of diverse women in the profession.
KE: Seeing women in my company taking on any role they want and be treated as equals shows me that gender is not being factored into my worth.
CPA CANADA: WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FOR WOMEN IN THE PROFESSION?
JF: There should be more emphasis on women role models in the profession. There still needs to be more representation of women and diversity in total. I also think there needs to be more profiles on women who are not in accounting firms but in other business and not-for-profit sectors.
JO: Much greater access to mentors and sponsors.
KE: More women voicing their ideas, taking on leadership roles and making a difference in the workplace.
CPA CANADA: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS MOVING FORWARD?
JF: After I finish my role as chancellor in two years, I will be quite busy working with foundations and boards that are specific to my interests. I will also continue to engage in mentorships for women.
JO: I want to continue to support companies in advancing workplace diversity, equity and inclusion.
KE: I want to become the youngest female VP in our company. Since joining Ovintiv*, I have taken on non-traditional leadership roles as the founder and team captain of the Ovintiv Young Leader’s Sports Team and as the program manager of Ovintiv’s pre-approved CPA program. Going forward, I want to continue taking on new responsibilities and challenges in the workplace to help me become a well-rounded CPA.
LEADING INTO THE FUTURE
Find out about this year’s AICPA women’s global leadership summit, which will be held in-person and online November 13 to 15, 2023. Plus, read why C-suite gender equality makes good business sense, the four Ps to finding your voice as a leader and negotiating tips to get the deal you want.
*This article was updated on February 16, 2023, to reflect Kamille Español’s future plans.