Celebrating International Accounting Day
McGill’s Vice President of Finance on Women in Accounting
November 10, 2023 – International Accounting Day
This International Accounting Day is an opportunity to celebrate the role of the accountant in the architecture, engineering, and consulting (AEC) industry. McGill’s Vice President of Finance, Nancy Whitman, CPA, and her team are in charge of some of the most important components of McGill’s success as an organization. From filing tax returns and other federal documentation, to ensuring profit reporting is accurate and sufficient cash is available to support on-going operations and strategic growth, accountants play a critical role.
Of course, International Accounting Day is not only about those who are already in the profession, but is also important for anyone looking to get involved in the accounting industry. We asked Nancy to share her views on accounting in the AEC industry, what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, and future challenges she sees for accountants in the industry.
Nancy Whitman’s History at McGill
Nancy began her career in the accounting field as a controller at a manufacturing firm. To make sure she was staying ahead of the curve and to broaden her skills, Nancy took on the job of business manager at McGill in 1995. Nancy started her position as the 40th employee hired at McGill, where she oversaw human resources (HR), benefits, administration, and accounting and helped set up our first Tennessee office that same year. By 1999, she was an owner of the company. After McGill had grown large enough to hire an HR director, Nancy became McGill’s Chief Financial Officer.
Ownership has kept Nancy at the table and her job interesting over her 28-year tenure. As an owner and Vice President of Finance, she is a part of the leadership team that shapes McGill’s future plans and policies. Nancy sees the impact that she has, not only on the firm, but on the extended McGill family. As the chief accountant, she is responsible for the many employees and their families that rely on McGill for job security and a healthy work-life balance. During the recent pandemic, she and her team were instrumental in strengthening McGill’s financial position during this difficult time.
“There are many families that rely on McGill. Our work is important not only to our clients, but the 150-plus families we support.” – Nancy Whitman
Stewarding Female Leadership at McGill
Nancy hired McGill’s current HR Director, Angie Alley, and has been responsible for hiring and bringing more women into the firm. Looking back at her early career, Nancy realized that she spent all of her time working to be the best at her job, expecting to be noticed for her accomplishments. In retrospect, she wishes she had a mentor to encourage her to set aside time early in her early career for building relationships, developing soft skills, and tracking her own accomplishments.
Nancy has always valued honesty and integrity above all else, leading her to believe that if you state your case and have the best plan, your idea will be moved forward. But it also requires listening to others and building strong relationships with decision-makers. She has learned to work with leadership to achieve her goals by leaning into vulnerability and not avoiding difficult conversations. Nancy recommends the writings of Brene Brown, such as “Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts,” which provides inspiration on how to be a leader while making the world a braver, safer, and more loving place for all people.
The Next Generation of Women in the Accounting and the AEC Industry
Nancy became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 1991 and is required to attend 40 hours of Continuing Education Credits (CEU)s each year to stay current in the field. When she first began attending CPA conferences, she saw few female attendees; now at least half the room is filled with women. Although there may still be a glass ceiling in the engineering industry, women who recognize their own expertise and act upon it can rise to the top. In the AEC industry, the disparity in the leadership ranks is not only in gender, but also in profession.
“It has taken several generations to change the makeup of the leadership ranks, but it is changing rapidly. This current generation has more experience with women in the workforce and is more accustomed to equality of the sexes.” – Nancy Whitman
Both accountants and engineers have excellent math abilities, where one focuses on science and technology, the other focuses on revenues, expenses, and logic. Each brings an important skill to the table. Recognizing your own skills and what you bring to the table will give you the confidence to lead.
Advice to Women Entering the Field
- Find a Mentor: Nancy’s advice for women new to accounting or the AEC industry is to find a mentor or someone to support them in their career growth. Spending more time on relationship building and learning from other points of view expands your worldview and results in more creative thinking and problem solving.
“I did not realize how beneficial having a mentor could be. In my current role, I find being a mentor very gratifying. Helping others succeed is pretty neat. I especially enjoy seeing a mentee get excited about their work and watching them bloom in their role.” – Nancy Whitman
- Track your Accomplishments: In many cases, women need to become more comfortable singing their own praises. Expecting people at work to remember or make note of your accomplishments does not yield the comprehensive data that is needed to leverage your performance win. You are building a case for your next promotion or trying to convince teammates to move forward on one of your ideas.
- Identify the Key Leaders of the Firm: It’s important to build relationships with the key players who are in your organization. The key players are not always identifiable by their titles. A mentor can help you in building these relationships.
“The way engineers look at the numbers I put out is not necessarily how I would look at them. You have to understand the engineers’ perspective, what they are looking for, and what is meaningful to them. And sometimes you have to help them identify what is meaningful, because you are the financial expert.” – Nancy Whitman
- Perfection is the Enemy of Progress: As Winston Churchill said, “Perfection if the enemy of progress.” Not all of your work needs to be A++ quality. At times, a B+ or A- will be sufficient, and you will be able to accomplish more overall. Take a moment to evaluate the needs of the firm and prioritize your efforts, keeping the overall picture in mind. Over her 28 years at McGill, Nancy has launched new offices, new projects, and new processes. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for timeliness.
- Share the Burden: Women have to stop thinking that they can do it all. The burden load is much larger in a leadership role; it is rarely a 40-hour work week. Delegation is key, but it requires trust. In order to have work-life balance, a leader must encourage his or her team to step up and take on part of the load. Nancy is very proud of her team and encourages them to learn and grow in their positions. She takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential. Although not everyone one on her team may aspire to a vice president role, each has the capability and skills to lead a project or process that is integral to McGill’s overall success.
“One of my proudest accomplishments is the team I have right now. We’ve built a strong team over the last three years. The team covers for each other and is there for each other, pitching in when needed.” – Nancy Whitman
Would you like to know more about our team? Visit Our Team page for more information on McGill’s leadership and the rest of our team.