A college professor once told Cindy Padilla that as a non-traditional, female student with two kids, she would never be hired at a large accounting firm. He said firms wanted 22-year-old college graduates, not older students with families and responsibilities.

At the time, Padilla was 33. She had worked as a bookkeeper since graduating high school, but enrolled in night classes at the University of Cincinnati because she always wanted to be an accountant.

Despite her professor’s warning, Padilla worked hard, with her husband taking care of the house and kids while she was at class. After five years of night and weekend classes, she graduated summa cum laude from UC and went on to work as an accountant at Arthur Andersen LLP and Deloitte LLP.

Today, Padilla is a principal at Barnes Dennig & Co. — Greater Cincinnati’s fifth largest accounting firm and one with a workforce almost evenly split between men and women.

Motivated to assist women in the industry who saw no room for advancement, Padilla pioneered the Women’s Growth and Development Initiative at Barnes Dennig to recruit and retain talented women.

To begin the group, Padilla first headed to Atlanta to meet with other firms that wanted similar programs. Padilla researched women’s programs and then formed a steering committee (which she chairs) with women in the firm. So far, the committee has hosted two events with overwhelming attendance. Three more events are now in the works.

“We had a huge response,” Padilla says. “There’s a lot of talk about what will come next.”

Padilla says her grandmother always told her that if someone did something to help her, she should do something to help others. Padilla tries to do that by volunteering and helping women in the workforce.

In addition to her job today, Padilla is involved in a national accounting program called Women into Leadership. She also was named to the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s WE Leadership Team. In the past, Padilla has volunteered her time to Cincinnati Classical Public Radio and the Cincinnati Association of the Blind & Visually Impaired. Currently, she gives her time to the American Red Cross and the Kidney Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

“When you see people juggling things, you can help and be gracious. Maybe they’ll do it for someone else someday,” she says. “People want to be part of your success.”