For years, women in public accounting have faced many challenges in reaching high-ranking leadership positions — primarily because they were forced to choose between firm and family at a time when partner status came within reach.

The women who have made it to executive level often tell tales of major personal sacrifice, and many following in their footsteps just don't want to travel that road.

We know that the number of women rising through the ranks is increasing due to alternative career paths, flex time and technology, aids that have helped all people — not just women — make work more manageable in today's workplace. Yet even with more women present and breaking through the glass ceiling, and more female accounting graduates primed for public accounting work than male, the numbers are not as good as they should be.

Still, we're optimistic. We know there are many women out there doing exceptional work in accounting across a wide spectrum of areas, from traditional managing partner, to software provider, to recruiting and standard-setting. This year, we wanted to honor 10 women who are inspiring for what they offer the profession. Without further ado, the inaugural Accounting Today 10 Worth Watching list.

Society veteran

Bringing a 113-year-old association into the 21st century is hard enough, but add in a deflated membership and a scarcity of resources, and you have a real challenge of re-invention on your hands.

That is what Joanne Barry is facing as she takes the reins of the New York State Society of CPAs, the country's oldest association. But we think Barry is up to the job. For one, she's a veteran at her trade, having been with the society for nearly 30 years in various communications and advocacy positions.

Two, since June, the first month of the NYSSCPA's fiscal year, the organization has already seen a jump in new members compared to the same time last year. Barry also intends to increase networking opportunities and the value of the NYSSCPA membership for CPAs in industry, academia and government who have been brought into public accounting through the state's new accountancy reform law. She'll aim to improve the organization's technology infrastructure so that more members can be actively involved and younger CPAs are provided with engaging leadership opportunities.

Also of note, Barry launched the association's Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program, which was developed to expose promising minority high school students to accounting and business careers in 1987. The program will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2012 - with 2,500 students having taken part in COAP and more than 53 percent of them going on to study business or accounting.

Family philosophy

Since 1972, Joan Ellenbogen has been managing partner of her family's accounting firm in Pittsburgh. Spanning three generations, the nearly 70-year-old Crawford Ellenbogen serves closely held businesses, nonprofits, families and individuals. The family philosophy extends to clients, and the firm believes that it's not just about the business, it's personal. No wonder the firm has been recognized for its family- and mother-friendly approach to its workplace culture, or that firm employees are dedicated to their surrounding community.

Ellenbogen's firm has been recognized in Working Mother magazine as a Best Women-Owned Company for offering flex-time, telecommuting and a compressed work week, while providing company laptops and reimbursement for Internet use.

Ellenbogen serves as a board member of the International Network of Accountants and Auditors and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, where she is the chair of the Stakeholder Relations Committee. She earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Duquesne University (and was valedictorian of her class) and also holds a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Duquesne University of Law. Add in the CPA credential and she offers her clients a multi-dimensional perspective in business consulting, tax, and estate and succession planning.

Advising entrepreneurs

As a CPA who also has an MBA, Michelle Long ought to know a thing or two about success and what it takes to get there. The QuickBooks coaching powerhouse started out her career as a staff accountant at Baird, Kurtz & Dobson in 1986, and eventually became a senior auditor at Price Waterhouse in 1988 before accepting a corporate financial reporting analyst position at Hallmark Cards. It was during that time, in 1991, that she founded her own consulting company, now called Long for Success.

Long is widely known and respected for her work in training accounting professionals in QuickBooks, and has been called upon by Intuit to author training courses for their academy and to speak during their fall update tour. In case you miss one of her webinars, seminars or Town Hall meetings on the subject, you can pick up her first book, Successful QuickBooks Consulting: The Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Growing a QuickBooks Consulting Business, or her second book, Beyond Successful QuickBooks Consulting: Taking Your Business to the Next Level, due out this fall. She's also got a third book in the works, How to Start a Home-Based Accounting and Bookkeeping Business, expected out in June 2011.

In addition to QuickBooks consulting, Long works with and advises small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration has named her a Financial Services Champion of the Year. She is a certified FastTrac Facilitator and has led the Kauffman Foundation's FastTrac NewVenture program and Listening to Your Business workshop. And her LinkedIn group, on successful QuickBooks consulting, has more than 3,600 members.

With unemployment still swelling and turning more people into entrepreneurs, we think it's a safe bet that Michelle is going to be busy for a long time.

'A girl with a Mac Book'

Francine McKenna doesn't call herself a journalist, but her blog seems to belie that claim. Since 2006, McKenna has been the mastermind and managing editor behind re: The Auditors, a blog that covers the regulation and globalization of Big Four audit firms, and has garnered much attention for her investigative writing, insight and watchdog sensibility.

Basically, big guns, watch out. Aside from her blog, McKenna is president of McKenna Partners, a specialized consulting firm that advises on litigation involving audit firms, especially in situations related to firms outside the U.S. She's held various positions in consulting and professional services in the areas of accounting and finance - from internal auditor to financial reporting manager to controller. She spent a year as a vice president at JP Morgan/Chase and was with consultancy BearingPoint for eight years, where she became the first female managing director in Latin America. A freelance writer who has also been published in The Financial Times, The Huffington Post and accounting blog Going Concern, McKenna was named a finalist for the 2010 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Financial and Business Journalism in May in its Online Commentary and Blogging Category, the first year the group took the awards online.

"In spite of my desire to not compete with the professionals, the world has changed," McKenna writes on her blog. "I'm a girl with a Mac Book, sitting in Chicago, with only her wits, her ego and 25 years of experience in an industry most find boring. But I can now use these tools in a powerful way to gain attention to the government-sponsored franchise the rest of you call public accounting."

In other words, pay attention.

New name, new thinking

Jody Padar, the successor in the father-daughter-run firm now known as New Vision CPA Group, has fresh ideas that shake up the sometimes-dusty foundation of the accounting profession. When she's not out speaking about technology or offering her insight to various think tanks, Jody is working with clients and thinking of innovative ways to give them more bang for their buck - all year long, not just at tax time.

A regular contributor to our Accounting Tomorrow blog, Padar uses social media to develop meaningful relationships with her clients and peers, and has developed a cult following on Twitter for her down-to-earth persona and accessibility.

For Padar, who is also up to speed on green-related government tax incentives and tax credits, it's also about breaking new ground and finding new models that work - and as someone who consults in technology, how that happens is just as important as the system you buy.

"It's about not just putting software on a bad process, but making sure the process is where it should be before you put the software on top of it," she said.

As the profession continues to change and technology transforms the way CPAs work and relate, Padar is sure to lead the way with her bright ideas and her desire to do things differently in a way that works.

Staffing stars

When Donna Peery and Cindy Heath teamed up in March of 2006 to take over Five Star Staffing & Accounting Recruiters in Raleigh, N.C., they charged themselves with bringing the community-minded and well-respected firm to the next level. Peery, who was with the firm for seven years and served as vice president, already knew what her customer base needed, so when Heath came on board from another local staffing agency, they were able to hit the ground running.

Billing themselves as "woman-owned," the managing partners have been collecting accolades for their success in placing temporary, temporary-to-hire and direct-hire personnel in administrative and accounting work. The firm has been ranked in the Triangle Business Journal's list of Outstanding Staffing Agencies & Woman-Owned Businesses every year since its inception, Peery has been named a Women Business Owner of the Year by the Greater Raleigh National Association of Women Business Owners, and Heath has received a Movers & Shakers Award from Business Leader magazine.

Peery currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Greater Raleigh Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, an association in which Heath is also involved, and which advocates for and supports the more than 41,000 women-owned businesses in that region.

A power at the FAF

Teresa Polley was no stranger to the Financial Accounting Foundation when she took the position as its president back in 2008. Polley brought 20 years of experience with the FAF and the Financial Accounting Standards Board, including serving as executive director of FASB's advisory groups from 1999 to 2007, where she acted as the go-between for the board and the constituent organizations that provide input into its decision-making processes. Prior to that position she served as controller of the FAF for nine years, but it was in 1987 that she first joined FASB as a technical associate, after working as a senior accountant for Arthur Andersen for half a decade. For the past 10 years, the Brooklyn native has been a participant in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a 192-mile bike ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Mass., in an effort to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Judy O'Dell, chair of FASB's Private Companies Financial Reporting Committee, described Polley as "a behind-the-scenes player who was instrumental in making changes in the way FASB deals with private company issues and in the formation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Private Company Financial Reporting." And with the many pending projects of FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board taking center stage and the continuously brewing controversy, we think Polley's role will become even more important in the coming months.

Taking the reins

Already a veteran with the Financial Accounting Standards Board, Leslie Seidman perhaps has her toughest job yet ahead of her, as the board's incoming chairman. Replacing Robert Hertz, who unexpectedly announced his retirement two years before the expiration of his five-year term, Seidman will pick up the reins to help drive FASB and the IASB in converging U.S. GAAP with International Financial Reporting Standards.

Before even being appointed to the Financial Accounting Standards Board as a member in 2003, she was already serving in various capacities - she worked with FASB as an industry fellow and then joined the research and technical staff as a project manager. She also held the position of assistant director of research and technical activities, where she supervised staff members dealing with implementation and practice problems, and worked with the board's Emerging Issues Task Force.

Prior to joining the board, Seidman managed her own firm providing consulting services to major corporations and accounting firms. Her experience also includes working as vice president of accounting policy at J.P. Morgan & Co., where she was responsible for establishing accounting policies for new financial products, and for analyzing and implementing new accounting standards.

Seidman started her career as an auditor at Arthur Young & Co. (now Ernst & Young) in New York. She is the author of the first three editions of Financial Instruments, a comprehensive practice manual for accountants and other professionals. She earned a master's degree in accounting from New York University and a bachelor's in English from Colgate University.

Her chairmanship became effective October 1.

On her second career

Therese Tucker was retired from her position as chief technology officer of SunGard Treasury Systems when she decided to go back to work nearly 10 years ago. Tucker had spearheaded product development for SunGard's five corporate treasury systems, managing over 200 people in six locations and four countries. She didn't just go back to work though - she decided to merge her two talents of technology and finance to start a business.

As a result, BlackLine Systems was born, and the company - which provides Software-as-a-Service solutions designed specifically for tracking and completing balance-sheet account reconciliations - has been picking up steam ever since. Revenues were up by more than 50 percent in 2009, following two sequential years where the company's revenues doubled under Tucker's leadership.

Headquartered in Calabasas, Calif., Tucker works with international clients such as AT&T, Boeing, Costco and eBay, making her success happen with just 60 employees. Big Four firms Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG are among a growing list of firms with people who have achieved BlackLine Implementation Certification, a training program designed to give partners the necessary skills to implement BlackLine's Financial Close Software Suite.

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