Skip To Main Content
Collage of Aanu Adelye, Lisa Laronde and Riley Turnbull
The Profession

‘The more voices in the room, the better’

In honour of International Women’s Day, three CPAs share their experiences, challenges and successes in the profession as women

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we talked with three CPAs at different career stages. They shared their experiences, successes, challenges and what they see ahead for themselves—and the accounting profession.

Lisa Laronde is the first woman president of RSG International, a global leader in road safety infrastructure. Leading with a focus on diversity and inclusion, she oversees strategy and operations while championing psychologically safe work environments.

Riley Turnbull is a principal with Canada’s Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB). Her work focuses on supporting PSAB and its volunteers in the development of public sector accounting standards.

Aanu Adeleye is a senior manager, KPMG Private Enterprise at KPMG in Canada. She plays a critical role in serving audit clients in the public sector which includes advanced education, local governments, education and not-for-profit organizations.

CPA CANADA: What challenges did you experience starting out?

Lisa Laronde (LL): Transitioning from the accounting profession into the construction industry was challenging. I went from being a respected senior leader into a traditionally male-dominated industry where I didn’t feel as valued.

Riley Turnbull (RT): When I started in Alberta in the mid-2000s, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were not “a thing” and it was a very conservative environment. I’m a transgender woman, and when I started my career, I was not out. It was a very different world back then.

Aanu Adeleye (AA): Starting out in the CPA profession, I experienced the challenge of my competence. As a woman from a diverse background, my expertise has been questioned at various stages of my career—more so than my peers.

CPA CANADA: What challenges have been unique to you in the CPA profession?

LL: I encountered many issues still faced today—job title equity, the gender wage gap, and discrimination—but my overall experience has been very positive. As a CPA, I was always well-respected, and my opinions were valued.

RT: It’s been an interesting trajectory in terms of moving towards authenticity in my career. At first, I stayed in the closet because I believed that was necessary to succeed in the accounting profession. But times have changed, and I can now embrace who I am.

AA: Although some of the bias that I experienced was not always intentional, it does not diminish how this has impacted how I show up in this profession. I have been fortunate to have had the right supports, which has helped me to confidently step up and demonstrate my leadership and expertise as a CPA.

CPA CANADA: What have been the most meaningful successes in your career?

LL: Getting my CPA designation was one of the best things I ever did. It’s a versatile designation that you can hold for life if you maintain your professional status. As a CPA, I’ve had multiple careers in different industries, and I even taught for a time.

RT: I’m in this incredible position where I get to support developing standards for the public sector in Canada. It’s an honour to be a part of that. Achieving my CPA designation was a milestone, but the day I came out and started presenting as my authentic self is also a success to celebrate.

AA: The most meaningful successes of my career have come through my contribution to others within this profession. To have played a part in empowering another person’s personal and professional development is success to me. While I don’t necessarily consider awards a marker of success, I was honoured to be a recipient of our KPMG Impact Awards in 2022 for my volunteer work.

CPA CANADA: What positive changes have you seen for women during your career?

LL: I’m really feeling the change. The #MeToo movement has fast-tracked us. I also see more women attending meetings and conferences in traditionally male-dominated industries—probably 10 per cent, which is better compared to when I was the only woman in attendance.

RT: We’re getting to a point of acknowledging and creating space for diverse perspectives in the room, which is a recent change. I participated on CPA Canada’s DEI Committee, and it was a powerful place to share my lived experience as a transgender woman. I worked with CPA Canada to look at policy changes to advance DEI, and I’m proud of what we did.

AA: Women in the CPA profession have opened the door to new ways of working and thinking. The positive changes I have seen include the fact that women are now more than ever at the forefront of mentoring leaders of tomorrow, and many organizations continue to align their goals with the core values that are important to the women they employ. We are also seeing some strides in creating a work-life balance that does not impact upward mobility.

CPA CANADA: What changes would you like to see for women in the profession?

LL: We need more women in senior leadership positions, but for that to happen, companies need to offer flexible options to support employees with caregiving responsibilities. On the flip side, women also need to put their names forward! Some research shows that women don’t apply for a job unless they possess 100 per cent of the qualifications, whereas men will apply with 60 per cent. I was approached about joining the Ontario Road Builders Association Board, to which I recently was elected. I’m a road builder in Ontario and I run a $350 million company, and I had never thought of it before!

RT: DEI initiatives can still be performative and more buy-in is needed across the board. There’s still an underlying feeling that gender equity and representation are just about “checking a box.”

AA: While progress has been made, I would like to see more women—including diverse women—in executive roles in the CPA profession. Decades of studies show that women leaders not only enhance collaboration, but also inspire organizational dedication and improve fairness. This is in addition to the business acumen and expertise that we bring as CPAs. The statistics are a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done and that organizations are missing out on the amazing talent pool of women available in Canada.

CPA CANADA: CPA Canada’s latest study shows that just 27 per cent of CPAs on boards are women. How do we increase women’s representation on boards?

LL: Boards can improve diversity by setting quotas, such as requiring 25 per cent of members to be women or from underrepresented groups. Networking opportunities are also key to getting women connected and noticed. Often, boards are selecting candidates from within their inner circles. Another problem is that women are not applying for board positions. Sitting on two boards, I know the time commitment can be difficult.

RT: I see resistance to quotas, but these are necessary to achieve gender diversity in boardrooms and committees. Without quotas, we’ll keep seeing resistance to meaningful improvement in these metrics. In terms of gender, racial, cultural and generational diversity—the more voices we have in the room, the better.

AA: Organizations should establish a target number of board positions for women—including spots for diverse women—and ensure these benchmarks are tracked and acted upon. Historically, many organizations deemed board member candidates as individuals with influence and financial means, which has often been at the disadvantage of women. Organizations must properly align their needs to the skills many women have and can bring to board positions.

CPA CANADA: The study mentions that more women and younger CPAs are joining boards and audit committees. What do you think about this shift?

LL: It’s beneficial for everyone! If a company has more diversity on its senior leadership team, it can lead to increased profitability. According to McKinsey & Company, companies in the top quartile for board-gender diversity are 27 percent more likely to outperform financially than those in the bottom quartile. Similarly, companies in the top quartile for ethnically diverse boards are 13 per cent more likely to outperform financially compared to less diverse ones. A diversified team brings an entirely new perspective.

RT: While the decision-making may not always change, the more diversity and lived experience in a room, the more informed the decisions are. I’ve seen the powerful impact of younger CPAs on boards and committees, who bring different views and contributions. It’s incredibly important to have younger CPAs and women of different intersections in the boardroom so those perspectives are considered.

AA: This is an encouraging shift that should be maintained and nurtured. We need to continue to increase the presence of women and younger CPAs on boards and audit committees, and for those already on the boards, we need to nurture and develop them to take on leadership roles within those boards. For this shift to be sustained, we need to ensure that the women and younger CPAs’ skills and expertise are matched to the board and audit committee needs to avoid tokenism.

CPA CANADA: What do you think is an important step the accounting profession can take to advance DEI?

LL: For CPAs, we can start by recognizing women in the field and ensuring they get the limelight. We don’t celebrate women enough!

RT: DEI needs to be a foundational piece of education for CPAs at the accreditation level. The accounting profession is incredibly diverse and will increasingly become more so.

AA: Advancing diversity within the profession requires implementing inclusive policies, continuous education, inclusive recruitment practices, programs for upward mobility, connecting with diverse community groups and embracing flexible work arrangements. Each step is crucial for achieving our diversity goals. The path to diversity and inclusion in accounting is not just one of intentions. It involves action, learning, un-learning, perseverance and holding ourselves accountable.


Learn about this year’s AICPA & CIMA women’s global leadership summit, which will take place on November 11 to 13, 2024. Read why the gender wage gap persists and how a lack of sponsorship is a key hurdle in more women joining boards.

Photo caption: From left to right: CPAs Aanu Adeleye, Lisa Laronde and Riley Turnbull share their experiences working in the profession. (Images provided)