This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Ferman and Allison Adams-Jones. For both of my guests, being a woman of color in accounting has been a challenge, both culturally and professionally.
Alexandra lives in California (born and raised), she is working on passing the CPA exams to obtain her license and is hoping to be licensed by the end of this year. Alexandra worked in public accounting for about 6 years and recently transitioned to private a few months ago. She has three children, two girls and a boy, who are 17, 7 and 5.
Allison lives in Cincinnati, OH, is a practicing CPA, works in public accounting and has been with her firm for 12 years, 6 ½ of which she has worked remotely, Allison just got out of the Navy Reserve, which she served in for 11 ½ years. She is also a single parent to a 20-month old little girl.
During this interview, we not only talk about the normal struggles that accountant moms face, but the particular struggles that women of color in accounting face as well.
Here are the highlights from this interview:
- We discuss the highlights from a Catalyst survey done in 2008 about women of color in accounting as well as how far we’ve come in 13 years with the issues highlighted in that survey
- That firms have been trying to handle inclusion, but they’re just not there yet
- It’s important to be able to work with other women of color who understand the cultural struggles
- There’s also the push back from others in their culture about working in a typically white profession like accounting
- It’s challenging to straddle both
- There’s also a cultural difference at work that they often can’t talk to their peers about
- There’s a lack of mentorship and coaching for women of color in accounting
- As the first white collar, college educated women in their family, they didn’t have the family mentorship they needed and lacked the work mentorship they wanted
- There needs to be more training for management on how to manage staff from different backgrounds
- A lot of the changes they’ve seen at their firm were inspired by them bringing issues to the attention of management
- This year, with the Black Lives Matter Movement, they have seen changes in the number of hires that are people of color
- The pandemic has also shifted the hiring because now firms aren’t limited by location with the ability for more accountants to work remotely
- Now firms can hire from schools nationwide and use technology to interview candidates where the interviewer looks like them, rather than an all white recruiting team
- They shared that not a lot of women of color have the courage to speak up and do something, but Allison has paved the way for, not only Alexandra, but other women of color in her firm as well
- Allison shares that she is able to speak up because she has faced death in Afghanistan, so taking a leadership role at work has been a natural transition
- They pointed out that having women support groups is great in order to discuss the challenges you’re facing, but that you also need to include the men in the conversation
- It’s great to have a safe space to discuss issues but if there are more male decision makers, they need to be a part of the conversation as well
- Having the courage to speak up can often take someone modeling that behavior
- We have to address the biases and stigma that might be unconscious, but that affect how we think, feel and behave
- Retention is an important issue now that companies are focusing on diversity
- While firms need to have policies in place that are inclusive, the responsibility also lies within the woman of color as well to reach out and help others as well
- Whether you are a woman of color or not, as accountant moms we need to advocate for ourselves but also ask for support
- We discuss the challenges that come with being a working mom, especially with the pandemic restrictions
- Allison’s advice for women of color in accounting is to look back at the challenges you’ve overcome and use that strength to handle any other difficulties you have
- None of us, as women, are without a story so when you think about the next hurdle you have to face, remember that you can do it
- Alexandra’s advice is to know that you’re not alone and to reach out to other women of color in accounting who culturally understands what you’re going through
- There is power in vulnerability and we need to reach out to others and have the courage to speak up and ask for help