By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager
When it comes to attracting and retaining Black students in the accounting profession, one professor said all potential barriers must be removed, and they must receive continuous support.
“We need to have all lanes open for access to the profession,” said Kecia Williams Smith, CPA, Ph.D. “A student should know they can enter the profession from a myriad of ways, and they will be well trained and ready to support the society for which they serve because accounting is the language of business.”
Smith teaches an auditing principles class and financial applications at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and previously worked at Deloitte and the PCAOB. She said one example of those barriers to entry is the cost of studying for and taking the CPA exam.
Black students must also have multiple mentors and a community of support, Smith said, since the number of Black accountants in the profession is so small, it’s crucial for students to have several people who can bring different perspectives and experiences to their lives.
“It is critical for our young professionals to see somebody they can aspire to and that they can go to for counsel,” Smith said.
“Being a Black professor means that there's a way in which you can relate to students that others cannot,” said Reginald Tomas Lee, a professor at the Williams College of Business at Xavier University. “And there are ways that students can relate to you in ways others cannot.”
Tomas said it’s critical for students to know they have someone who cares for them and is invested in their success. Kelly Richmond Pope, CPA, Ph.D., who teaches managerial accounting and graduate financial principles of forensic accounting at DePaul University, said she tells Black students to find someone who has been on a similar career path to inspire them, so they have something aside from race in common. She encourages students to reach out to those individuals for informational interviews to get to know them better.
“Who do you aspire to be like? What were their career moves and how did they do it?” she said. “Establish those relationships because people want to help you.”
As for recruiting more young Black students into the profession, Pope said the exposure of Black professionals to young students is critical.
“We need to help them achieve success,” Lee said. “And help them have conversations that go beyond debits and credits so they can see really how powerful this profession is.”
Smith has a regular event where she brings in diverse professionals to talk to her students about life after graduation and answer questions on finding mentors, branding, navigating work, personal responsibilities and more.
“Always remember that whatever we're doing, we are making history,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we are being inclusive, supporting the students and removing any barriers to entry for the profession so that when people look back on this period of time, they can see that this was a significant paradigm shift in the accounting profession of moving forward and making sure that all lanes are open for people to come into the profession.”
[PHOTOS: Top: Smith; Middle: Lee; Bottom: Pope]