Women's History Month | 5 MIN READ

A Story of Hope Part 2

March 19, 2021 By Freilla Espinola
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Hope Cupit, CEO of Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP)

This is part of RCAP’s series to celebrate Women’s History Month and highlight the leadership and wisdom of the wonderful women who support this network

In 1987 the United States Congress declared March as Women’s History Month. This long overdue recognition and celebration honoring the many accomplishments women have made in this great country was long overdue. After all, the popular saying is that behind every great man there is a woman making it possible for him to be great. Now that March is officially Women’s History Month, it is our duty to empower ourselves, our friends, and our colleagues by supporting women and women’s work/life balance.

In the early 1900’s most women did not work outside of the home.  As a matter of fact, 20% of all women were “gainfully employed” in the early 20th century compared to 2020, when 57% of women made up the workforce. Currently, only 33% of women are working due to COVID-19. African American women were more likely to participate in the labor force than any other demographic, even after getting married. Most women left the workforce upon getting married due to cultural norms. As a child, none of the women in my life “stayed at home” to raise us. They all had to work to provide for their families, and we as children had to grow up fast and learn how to care for ourselves, our siblings, and our cousins. I was fortunate to have a huge family, and we often stayed with other cousins while my mother worked. If we were lucky our grandparents would take a turn to watch us. As I got older it was normal to see most kids walking home from elementary school with keys around their necks to get into their homes. We were known as latchkey kids. I often say being a woman for me started in first grade. I was responsible for my younger brother and maybe a cousin or two who stayed in the house with me. I was forced to take charge and take care of those around me. I believe having this responsibility shaped my life and my drive to work hard.

I am honored to share my story, especially now when most women are in the workforce and have careers. My educational background is in accounting. I have a master’s degree in accounting and am a Certified Public Accountant. I worked for a regional CPA firm that mainly audited nonprofit organizations in the state of Virginia. When I was young, I went to public schools and had a two-year period in a private school. The private school experience shaped my educational path because it was there that I was introduced to accounting and decided that was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I had great family support from my mother, uncles, aunt and both set of grandparents. They encouraged me to do well in school and in life.

When I started my career I mainly worked with nonprofit organizations as their CPA. At the accounting firm I worked for, if you were seen out in the hall talking with others, they would reduce your hours.  I had strict bosses, which was a good thing for me. They emphasized having a good work ethic, staying busy, and being a team player. There was no room for mistakes. Of course, over time things have changed and technology has made the work place more flexible. You may work anywhere these days and do not have to be in an office to get the job done.

The advice I would give myself twenty years ago is to enjoy life and spend more time with family. I was so concerned about my career that I found it hard to have work/life balance. Although if I had to do it all over I would also advise myself about time management. Having mastered that skill would have provided me with a perfect work/life balance. Being a married woman with children and working in a male dominated field may leave most of us behind due to constant competition in the workplace. I am very thankful for the support of my husband and I know he is grateful of my support of him as well.  We are a team.

The advice I want to give young women trying to navigate careers in today’s world is to be prepared to spot appropriate career development opportunities that allow for stepping stones to reach the next career level. Please know that life is a marathon and not a sprint, so do not feel pressured to rush into anything. Always think strategically. Surround yourself with people that are successful, both men and women, and learn from them. Develop a career network that will promote and expose you to other fields that are different than the one where you currently work. Finally, always be yourself and stay focused on the vision to cultivate goals needed to become a better version of you, both at work and at home.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, get to know the women in your circle and learn from their experiences. Remember that life experiences and challenges shape who we are and how we present ourselves to others. I encourage you to join a women’s professional network and continue to grow.

Happy Women’s History Month!

Hope F. Cupit is the CEO of Southeast RCAP, serving the south Atlantic States and a proud member of the RCAP network. She also serves on the RCAP board and is currently the Treasurer/Secretary of the board.

By Freilla Espinola

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