How did you get to where you are today?
The creation of “Stefanie Ricchio CPA, CGA The Modern Accountant” has been years in the making, 22 years to be exact. At 18 I knew that I wanted to have a bold and successful career, having no true sense of what it would take to achieve my version of success. It has been the culmination of positions that didn’t align with my interests, although they taught to the importance of finding passion in the work you do. It included rigorous education; diploma, degree and professional accreditation.
15 years of working for a great company under the mentorship of the epitome of a leader who allowed me the opportunity to obtain vast experience within the technology sector without realizing at the time how it would become the epicentre of my career.
Lastly, it included taking scary twists and turns that felt like an extreme deviation from “Accounting”. Within the past 5 years I found myself, on many occasions, accepting positions outside of traditional accounting which was terrifying, but as I leapt, I was able to add Learning & Development, Academia and Business Systems Analysis to my core deliverables as an entrepreneur today.
The “plan” became agile and fluid, that was the key ingredient to building a successful career for me.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
I felt the need to lie about my age as I entered the workforce earlier than most and while I was eager to learn, I felt that I would be judged and that did happen. One of the greatest challenges I found was being able to be viewed as myself and valuable within the same breath. Where I couldn’t be funny and easy to get along with and also be taken seriously.
I have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace where the handling was such to protect the individual making the lewd comments and I made out to be the root cause of the issue.
Later in my career as I shifted towards entrepreneurship and brand building, I had to put myself forward in different ways than previously and pitch my worth and value.
I have been criticized in public settings for peers who were looked over for promotions and had my experience and drive reduced to “she got it because she’s friends with management”.
One of the most surreal experiences that comes to mind was presenting myself for consideration for a project and being the prize candidate for the project until I stated my rate. Sitting in a room with 2 men where the climate went from “we adore you” to “how dare you” in less than 3 seconds was an experience I won’t soon forget. I watched as a grown man stood over me enraged with my portfolio in his hands and the other offering me advice to be grateful to work and that I have no reason to ask for a fair wage.
I have had the one-year gap of maternity leave on my resume speculated on even though it was proceeded with nearly a decade worth of achievement and success.
One of the Female Lead themes is ‘Finding Strength in Setbacks’ – have you found strength in the challenges you’ve faced?
Without question. It may sound cliched to say that rejection builds character but it is very true. As an entrepreneur you don’t always have the luxury of getting paid regardless of what they day throws your way so you must continually assess your results. The negative results generally provide the greatest lessons. When I sit back and evaluate some of my setbacks, I realize they were in fact the right steps towards success. They stopped me from lowering my value to meet someone else’s needs, or they allowed me to find more prosperous and profitable opportunities. Most importantly I have learned to evaluate situations and not take things so personally. My value isn’t being disputed or rejected, it is that people can’t control my actions to conform to their desires and that’s what creates the challenge.
I am worth my rate but not everyone can justify it to their side.
I did earn that job and that can make someone else feel bad about their own shortcomings.
Framing people’s reactions this way is empowering.
What would be your top tips for women who have faced similar difficulties/challenges at work?
Do not force a situation, force creates resistance and that can create very difficult working environments.
Do not sell yourself short to the first or lowest bidder for the sake of getting that sale.
Find your voice and command your presence, we don’t have to be bossy, loud or obscene. All we need to be is ourselves and strong in our conviction. Your experience and success are all you need and the right partners will see it.
Never sell something you can’t deliver; your name or brand is your future.
If you get in over your head, find a resource to help you and execute your delivery even if that means breaking even or incurring a loss. Learning on your client’s dime is a very risky move.
Stay true to you. When you deviate from the core of who you are inside, you will lose passion and your work and career will suffer for it. Placing yourself in a box or situation that doesn’t align with you seldom yields positive results.
Have you seen progress for women in the workplace? Is there still a long way to go?
When I first began my career there were few women in leadership roles, true decision makers. Now, 2 decades later I can say I have spent the better part of the past 2 years implementing business systems led at the helm mainly by women in leadership roles with incredible women supporting them.
We do have a way to go, more women in tech, sciences, professional sports.
The climate for women to be successful and lead has never been as opportune as it is now. We must continue to strive for the equality and mentor the next generation to ensure that it is no longer mandatory to ensure that women are hired to fit a policy but rather it just becomes status quo, where a seat can belong to anyone who has earned it regardless of their gender.
We are having the right conversations; we need more action and solidarity to support each other.
Asking for help is one of The Female Lead key themes. Does it come naturally to you?
It didn’t and some days I still struggle, likely because of my age and upbringing. It was commonly expressed as a weakness to ask for help and that remained with me for a long time in all facets of life. Now, older and wiser, I realize that it takes incredible strength to ask for help and I am an open door to anyone who needs help to ensure that others don’t try to face their challenges alone as I did.
What is one thing you want people to learn and take from your experiences?
Growth is hard and often painful, remaining where and as you are is comfortable.
But we cannot expect to have a successful, fruitful and happy life without investing in ourselves.
I would also love for women to believe in themselves and how they view themselves. Constructive criticism is valuable, we all need it, but tolerating other people’s projections is not healthy and learning how to decipher between the two will save you stress and negative self-talk. I tell myself daily, out loud, that I am amazed at the things I have done and do daily. Speak your strengths and confidence into existence, waiting for others to do so won’t give you the motivation you need to continue forward.
What advice would you give to young women who are just entering the workforce?
Be kind to yourself. Understand the reactions of people around do not necessarily correlate to something you did wrong. We, as individuals, are responsible for ourselves and not how others perceive us. People will treat you in ways that often aligns with their personal history or story, or their shortcomings and take it out on you to protect their space or their ego.
When you can evaluate a situation in the moment and realize that people are triggered by internal conflicts or emotions, you remove the blame from yourself and limit accepting blame for the shortcomings of others and that’s critical in maintaining a healthy and productive head space.
The path won’t be simple and easy but you must stay in the lane to your destination of happiness. Focus on you and not the person beside you, everyone has their journey and process. No two people or careers will ever be the exact same. Do you, as they say.
What’s next for you?
I hope to continue to share my stories and experience to support 2 initiatives:
1) To shed some understanding to other women; young and experienced, in the hopes that my learnings help them to evaluate their current situations and history and move forward on a more positive and successful pace.
2) To normalize discussing what we previously defined as weaknesses or issues to be swept under the rug. There is a lesson in every experience and never before have we been so able to share information in support of making change. Two-fold benefit; both sides of the interaction.
Be able to provide reassurance, hope, or resolution to others to find their success is what makes all the obstacles, hardship, and offence part of the key ---- to my own life story. I have important things to say and plan to continue this through the short and long term.