Six women at the front of a classroom speaking to a room of female students
Fisher School of Accounting Ph.D. candidate Diana Weng, second from left, speaking on the panel at the 12th Annual Women in Accounting Symposium.

Women in Accounting Symposium inspires mentorship, leadership

Diana Weng

By Diana Weng, Fisher School of Accounting Ph.D. candidate

I often look back at my path at the University of Florida’s Fisher School of Accounting and think about how fortunate I am to be where I am today, still the University of Florida. What can I say? It’s great. To be. A Florida Gator.

In 2011, I was a freshman trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and who I wanted to be. I did not know it at the time, but I was lucky in so many ways. That year, I joined the Undergraduate Minority Mentorship Program (UMMP) with the thought, “Why not? That sounds cool!” Since I had chosen accounting as my major, UMMP assigned now retired accounting professor Debbie Garvin as my faculty mentor. Anybody who knows Debbie knows that I really lucked out with that assignment.

Over the past seven years, she has provided more invaluable guidance and support than I could have ever imagined. One pivotal piece of advice that seemed small at the time was for me to attend the Fisher School of Accounting Women in Accounting Symposium (FSOA WIAS). I had no idea what it was. Little did I know how much I would learn and how big a role in my life mentoring and the WIAS would play.

After that year, I joined the Planning Committee for the WIAS and later became the Committee Chair, a position I maintain today as I work towards my Ph.D. in accounting. Wow, that escalated quickly, right? It really has felt like so much has changed over seven years.

Now the more important question is – how did I even get here? I stand on the shoulders of the women who have come before me and the people who have taken an interest in my career. There are so many, but I will focus on a few important women in my life.

As I mentioned before, Debbie Garvin played a huge role in my career, supporting me from when I was what she called “a little 1AC” (freshman accounting major) all the way through my decision to join the Ph.D. program. Another woman who I cannot thank enough is Kathy Rupar, who was a faculty member at UF at the time. Without her, I would not have stayed an accounting major, and I would not have decided to pursue an academic career in the field. I often tell her this and she laughs because she probably thinks I’m joking. Kathy, if you’re reading this, I’m 100 percent serious.

More recently, current Fisher faculty members Sonia Singh, Jenny Tucker, and Lisa Hinson have served as my role models and mentors. Their support has helped improve my research, professional career and teaching. When I started at the Fisher School, I did not realize how much these strong women role models would influence me. I do now, and I know it is my job to pay it forward.

This year, the Women in Accounting Symposium really came full circle for me. The first year I attended, Fisher School of Accounting alumna Karen Mann presented. I remember thinking, “I want to be just like her.” I reached out and she took time out of her day to give me lengthy, invaluable advice. I was so touched. She had no incentives to help me; she did it out of the kindness of her heart.

This year, my eighth Women in Accounting Symposium, I had the honor of being on the panel alongside Karen. I sat among several women who have presented in the past, and it felt like one of those moments, the rare moments, when you feel like you’ve made it in some way. A big unplanned topic this year was about building other women up and bringing women with you as you rise to the top. It really spoke to me, and I hope it spoke to many of our attendees.

Each year, we discuss relevant topics that will benefit all people in the workplace. Even today, as a fourth year Ph.D. student, I am learning. I am in awe when even senior partners are engrossed in the presentations!

The WIAS is such a great place to find role models, advice and guidance for anybody who wants to learn (shout-out to Adrian, the one male student who attended; I hope more will be like you). Next year will be my last year with the WIAS before I graduate in 2020, and I hope it continues to be a strong and powerful event, inspiring leadership and mentorship for both professionals and students alike.

Thank you to Alison Law, Katharine Burks and Rebecca Lakkis for planning the Women in Accounting Symposium with me, and to the students who joined the committee over the years. All of our hard work in getting funding, organizing the schedule, and getting the show on the road pays off.

I’d like to dedicate this piece to my mother, my number one supporter since day one. Mom, nobody has sacrificed as much as you have for me to have a better life. You are my first strong, independent role model. I recognize that I stand on your and many other women’s shoulders. “Thank you” will never be enough.