Accounting for Diversity: A hard road to management for Black CPAs

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During a hearing in 2004 on the financial services industry, congressional members and witnesses expressed concern about the lack of diversity in the industry’s work force, particularly in key, management-level positions. The Govern-ment Accountability Office, the audit, evaluation and investigative arm of Congress, subsequently was asked to provide an overview on the status of diversity in the industry. The GAO’s report, Workforce Representation in the Financial Services Industry at the Management Level (1993-2004), found that between 1993 and 2004, diversity at the management level in the financial services industry did not change substantially, but increases in representation varied by racial or ethnic minority group. During that period, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, management-level representation by minority men and women increased to 15.5 percent from 11.1 percent. African-Americans increased their representation to 6.6 percent from 5.6 percent, Asians to 4.5 percent from 2.5 percent and Hispanics to 4.0 percent from 2.8 percent. Asians held 7.3 percent of all management-level positions, African-Americans 3.0 percent and Hispanics 3.0 percent.

Financial services firms and trade groups interviewed by GAO researchers said programs they initiated to increase the diversity of their work forces, including in management-level positions, face challenges. The programs include developing scholarships and internships, establishing programs to foster employee retention and development, and linking managers’ compensation with their performance in promoting a diverse work force. Some executives cited challenges in recruiting and retaining minority candidates; others said gaining employees’ “buy-in” to diversity programs was a challenge, particularly among middle managers, who were often responsible for implementing key aspects of such programs.

About a year after the congressional hearings, in December 2005, members of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) told researchers at Howard University’s Center for Accounting Education that race continues to impact the careers of people of color in the accounting profession. Their statements were made in the course of a survey titled “The Professional Experience—The NABA Survey.” According to a preliminary analysis of the survey:

• 59 percent of respondents believed that because of their race, they had not always received unbiased or objective evaluations from their supervisors;

• 55 percent felt that mistakes they might make in the workplace directly impacted the perception or evaluation of other members of their race;

• Almost half believed that nonminority counterparts with less technical competence or experience are given more high-profile or challenging job assignments;

• 63 percent felt no obligation to remain with their current employer.

Commenting on the findings, Frank Ross, former NABA president and director of the Howard University Center, said, “In spite of diversity programs initiated by many of the nation’s top employers, there is still disparity among people of color in the accounting and finance areas with regard to their ability to advance with their employers. We hope to provide recommendations for making positive changes to lower attrition and improve advancement for the African-American accounting professional.”

In the pages that follow, CPAs who have made it to partner level at Deloitte & Touche USA L.L.P., Ernst & Young and KPMG L.L.P., three of world’s largest accounting firms, tell TNJ about the road they traveled to get there.   

Crystal Sampson, partnerCrystal Sampson, Partner
Ernst & Young, New York City
By Angela Johnson Meadows

An affinity for numbers drew Crystal Sampson to accounting, but it is her passion for building relationships that has helped her career flourish. “I enjoy serving clients. I really enjoy working with the people that I work with, ensuring that our clients get the best service we can provide,” she says.

The New York City native has been a partner at Ernst & Young L.L.P. since 2002. She spent her formative professional years at former accounting giant Arthur Andersen L.L.P., joining the firm as a staff accountant in 1987 after graduating from Brooklyn College. While at Andersen, Sampson served clients in the areas of retail distribution and technology. Her ability to handle clients of various sizes in multiple industries put her on the path to partner, a position she earned in 2000. She attributes this accomplishment to having the support of the right people. “I had relationships with individuals who were absolutely instrumental in helping me achieve my goal to get to the next level, to support me when it was time for me to be put up for partnership,” she says.

But Sampson’s time as a partner at Andersen was short-lived. When the firm began to crumble as a result of prosecution by the U.S. Justice Department over its auditing of Enron Corp., Sampson knew it was time to seek a new home. She was particularly impressed with Ernst & Young. “For me, it’s always been sort of a gut feeling: Did we click in those initial meetings? I found that to be the case in meetings with Ernst & Young,” she says.

Sampson now manages clients in media and entertainment as the engagement partner for New Line Cinema. Her responsibilities include overseeing the New Line engagement team and ensuring its compliance with regulatory requirements and general accounting principles. “There’s always a need to have zero failure,” says Sampson. “One hundred percent compliance, 100 percent accuracy is what’s expected.”

It is a task that has grown considerably more challenging in recent years due to the changing regulatory environment. The advent of laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, for example, requires accounting firms to provide even greater guidance to their clients. “There’s a need to continue to walk with the clients to make sure the accountants are doing what they need to do and the clients are getting the services they want and deserve,” says Sampson.
Sampson serves as one of two diversity coordinators for E&Y’s northeast sub-area, working with senior professionals to set strategies for diversity and inclusiveness within the firm. She is a member of the board of directors of Dress for Success Worldwide and of Palladia Inc., a nonprofit multiservice agency in New York, and she also is an associate board member of Junior Achievement of New York.

Sampson is enthusiastic about nurturing younger accountants at her firm. She advises those aspiring to become a partner to focus on strengthening both their technical and people skills. “Those are talents that you need to demonstrate consistently,” says Sampson, noting that one’s internal relationships are as important as those developed with clients. “Find someone who’s willing to speak up on your behalf when you’re not in the room.”    

Avril B. Stephens, partnerAvril B. Stephens, Partner
Deloitte & Touche USA, L.L.P., New York City
By Marcia Reed Woodward

Avril Stephens says she became a certified public accountant partly because of her mother. “I initially wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad, but that didn’t work out. So I decided to work with numbers like my mom, who was a bookkeeper,” she says.

An audit partner with Deloitte & Touche USA L.L.P., one of the largest U.S. accounting firms with offices in more than 100 different countries, Stephens does more than simply work with numbers. The St. John’s University graduate, with licenses in multiple states, specializes in general accounting, demutualization, managing statutory to GAAP conversions, monitoring regulatory compliance and conducting statutory examinations. “Becoming an accountant was the best career decision I ever made,” says Stephens. If becoming an accountant was her best career decision, then pursuing a career at Deloitte ranks a close second, Stephens says. “I promised myself that I would leave the day the work got boring,” she says. Some 15 years later, that day has yet to come.

For a decade and a half Stephens has worked with clients that have included many of the world’s largest and most prominent publicly and privately held mutual fund, stock, fraternal, agency and brokerage companies. She credits her success to her strong sense of self and great mentors and role models. “You have to know who you are, speak up for what you believe, work hard at what you do and always strive to be better,” she says. 

One of the issues Stephens speaks up for is diversity. “In a global economy, diversity is no longer an option; it’s a business requirement, just like quality and customer service,” she says. As Deloitte’s diversity champion for both its Hartford, Conn., office and its Northeast Diversity Council, Stephens promotes racial and cultural inclusion throughout the organization. Away from the office, but never far from work, Stephens is active in Deloitte’s Women Initiative Network for the Tri-State area and serves as a mentor to up-and-coming company professionals. “Whether you’re starting your career or your own company, no one starts at the top and everyone can use a mentor,” she says.

Stephens is a founding member of BusinessLinc Connecticut, a program that nurtures professional development and the overall success of small, minority and women-owned businesses in Connecticut’s urban neighborhoods by partnering those businesses with larger, more established and experienced businesses in the area. Her commitment to mentoring is heartfelt. “I’m a Deloitte partner today. However, I remember when I was a first-year associate and my mentors helped me. The least I can do is return the favor by keeping my door and schedule open to help others,” she says.    

The self-described overachiever is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Connecticut State Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Greater Hartford Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, for which she will serve as director of student affairs in 2007. In 2003, she was recognized as one of the Harlem YMCA’s Black Achievers in Industry. 

Emmanuel A. Tuffuor, partnerEmmanuel A. Tuffuor, Partner
KPMG, New York City
By Marcia Reed Woodward

Even as a child, Emmanuel Tuffuor knew that he would go far. Armed with an academic scholarship and the longing to study economics in a free-market society, Tuffuor left his home in Ghana and traveled to the United States to become a certified public accountant.

He was ready for everything—the long trip, lonely nights without family and friends and challenging studies—but not the cold, he recalls. “Nothing prepares you for winters in North America,” says Tuffuor, who ultimately weathered the cold at Berea College in Kentucky to acquire a bachelor’s degree in both economics and business administration before going on to the University of Georgia for graduate degrees in economics and accounting.

Despite his dislike of frigid climates, Tuffuor traveled farther north after graduation and took a position with the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche USA L.L.P. in what was then the nation’s financial epicenter, New York City’s World Trade Center. “I made it a point to observe my peers, ask countless questions and learn all I could early in my career.”  He also sought out mentors to help him navigate corporate politics, build the necessary support networks and identify opportunities that would advance his career. In two short years, his hard work paid off and Tuffuor accepted a better position with Coopers & Lybrand, where he worked for another two years before joining KPMG in 1996. 

He may have reached the top of the accounting profession in a relatively short period of time, but the journey was far from easy, Tuffuor says. Constantly changing tax regulations, an unstable economy and accounting industry setbacks helped make his a strenuous ascent. “It was hard, but it was worth it,” says Tuffuor. “Few things have greater impact than shaping the economy, thus our world, by helping world leaders apply sound financial business principles,” he says.

As a partner in the investment management and funds practice, Tuffuor specializes in tax compliance and advisory support for hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and regulated investment companies. His clients include Moore Capital Management L.L.C., Q Investments, Citigroup Alternative Investment Commodity Pools, Credit Suisse First Boston Private Equity Funds and INVESCO Private Equity Funds. Still, “It’s not enough to just have a job; professionals need to be active in their industry,” he says. To do so, he joined the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants and the Wall Street Tax Association.  He has served on the KPMG’s New York Market Leaders team and participated as an original member of the New York Action Council.

A prolific writer who detests the rigors of English spelling, Tuffuor has authored several articles published in the Journal of Hedge Fund Research and Re: Funds, taught internal KPMG courses on hedge funds taxation and investment partnerships, served on the New Jersey Board of Education’s Policy Committee and currently volunteers with a local Junior Achievement.