Becker + NABA: Diversity in Accounting
Black accountants are severely underrepresented in both the accounting and finance industries; NABA, the National Association of Black Accountants, aims to build up Black accounting professionals and break down the barriers that are causing this underrepresentation.
During Black History Month this February, Becker sat down with new President and Chief Executive Officer of NABA, Guylaine Saint Juste, to discuss the challenges that Black accountants face in a predominantly white field.
Read on to learn how NABA supports Black accountants and how the organization is working to change the accounting world into a more inclusive environment.
How did your organization celebrate Black History Month?
Every month is Black History Month at NABA. We believe Black people should be celebrated every day. With that in mind, we are intentionally celebrating the many successes of our dynamic membership: we are continuing to highlight member achievements this month, as members earn their CPA license, get promoted, publish new articles, launch businesses or mentor young people. This month is especially important to showcase the many ways our members are thriving.
What are some of NABA’s goals for the year surrounding diversity and inclusion?
This year, NABA welcomed me as the new CEO, and we are knee-deep in imagining the next 50 years for this great organization. Our goal is to organize, mobilize and inspire our NABA Nation in the One NABA, One Voice motto. It’s important for us to continue to “lift as we climb;” for us, that means improving Black representation at all levels of businesses, including the C-Suite and governing boards.
NABA Nation is committed to partnering with like-minded organizations in paving the way to a more just world, where Black people of all ages and skill levels can contribute fully and creatively in building strategic value for companies, fostering stability and prosperity for communities and building wealth and opportunity for generations to come.
To what degree and why are Black accountants underrepresented in the accounting and finance fields?
We know we have a long way to go in attaining fair and equitable representation for Black accountants in all aspects of business. The IMA and CalCPA recently published a report: Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent. The research suggests that while Blacks and African Americans make up about 13.4% of the 2019 U.S. population, they constitute only 8.9% of accountants and auditors, 1.4% of sitting Fortune 500 CFOs, and less than 1% of 2018 partners in finance. Clearly, we have an opportunity to move the needle considerably. At NABA, we aspire to serve as a strategic partner to great companies in designing a more inclusive talent pipeline. This entails paid internship programs for college students, development of 21st century competencies to support the promotion and advancement of Black leaders, and mapping out pathways to increase representation in the C-Suite and beyond.
How can firms help support their current Black employees?
Management Leadership for Tomorrow has published an interesting set of data that highlights the importance of working towards the advancement and promotion of Black professionals. In our view, ERGs (employee resource groups) are not enough. We believe companies need to clearly define necessary competencies required to advance to new levels within the organization, and go further in both understanding how these competencies must be manifested, in a way that feels safe for those of us of African descent. It’s hard to be a true “disruptor” if one is a tall, strong Black man. Investing in these competencies is critical, and NABA stands ready to partner with companies to advance that work.
What is the most significant barrier to Black accountants advancing in the profession?
We know companies mostly hire for skills, experience and academic achievement. They tend to fire for values and competencies. It is important for companies to “decode” the expectations that stand at the intersection of authenticity and cultural norms, and examining firm culture might represent a first step. In addition, having diverse slates of candidates for new roles, while important, has proven to be slow in producing meaningful outcomes. We wonder what the outcomes might be if the same mindset is applied to succession plans, promotion slates and developmental opportunities, so that the field becomes broadened at all levels.
Why is it so critical for firms to value a diverse workforce?
Enough data from well-recognized experts continues to prove that diverse teams generate a number of positive outcomes, such as increased revenue, higher sales, or better expense control, that exceed those of their counterparts by at least double digits. We all know the value, but it is time for companies to channel their inner Nike: “Just do it.”
Why is it key to have Black representation, specifically in the accounting / finance sector?
At NABA, we believe that accounting is to money and wealth what keys are to music (you need one to eventually produce the other), coupled with sustained proof that diverse teams generate better results. If we are serious about bridging the wealth and income gap in this country, we need representation in the field.
What message do you have for Black accountants or CPAs?
Always be learning. Be brave and courageous. Maintain integrity at all times. Become an adviser to your clients.
Thanks to the work of organizations like NABA, progress is slowly but surely being made to make the accounting field a more inclusive and welcoming place for Black professionals.
Want to learn more about NABA? Read the first part of Becker’s interview with NABA here.
Guylaine Saint Juste, serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA). She began her tenure on February 1, 2021. She is a corporate officer of the Board of Directors, and leads all aspects of the organization.
Guylaine’s career spans 28 years in the Financial Services Sector, where she held senior and executive roles at SunTrust Bank and Capital One; she has also served on several boards in the DC area. Guylaine earned an Associate Degree from Northern Virginia Community College, a Baccalaureate Degree from George Mason University, and a Graduate Degree in Retail Banking Management from the University of Virginia. She holds the SHRM-SCP and CAE certifications.