Interview with Founder of the Lady CPA Network
An interview with the founder of The Lady CPA Network, JaJuan Williams, CPA, MBA. Join us as Ms. Williams explains why it's important for the accounting profession to support African American women and what we can all do to help.
– Hi everyone, it’s Madeleine again from UWorld Roger CPA Review and welcome to the second video in our series with our guest JaJuan Williams, CPA, MBA, and founder of the non-profit organization, The Lady CPA Network. If you missed our first video, it can be found in our learning center on our YouTube channel. And as a reminder, The Lady CPA Network is a non-profit organization, aiding in the advancement of African American women in the accounting and finance profession. So, welcome JaJuan.
– Thank you.
– Thank you! Thanks for being here with me again, it’s so great to talk to you.
– Yeah, we had such a wonderful response after the first interview, so I was really looking forward to you guys contacting me for a second session, so I love it, thank you.
– I am so glad to hear that, that’s really great. We have some more questions for you today and excited to ask you. So, let’s get right into it.
– Wondering, in your opinion, what are some critical and necessary improvements you think need to happen to help young African American women to feel supported in the accounting profession?
– Well, it’s actually a good question and crazy enough, I think there’s a two-fold answer to that because recently I had, we were contacted by Sony, Sony Music, and they were looking for a finance person, a VP of finance or something. And I was talking to the HR recruiter and she was telling me how difficult of a time they had been having finding someone. You know, they want everyone, diversity, so you wanna try to be as diverse as possible, but they had a very small pool of African American women or African American CPAs period, and then African American women as well. And she was asking me, if I thought that HR, or companies, could do a better, I guess a better way of recruiting. So, I said it’s two-fold because I do think the pool is small, so sometimes a lot of people or organizations will say, “Okay, well this organization isn’t diverse enough.” Or, “This organization doesn’t have any African American “people period, at C suite levels. “Why not?” And I honestly think it’s the pool. I don’t necessarily think that all companies just aren’t recruiting or to be diverse, I think the pool needs to be increased for qualified individuals. And then that does come from organization supports like mine, as well as parents and mentorship. So, I think that if you find mentors and you know, people who encourage African American women, or African Americans in general, to strive for educational reasons to become CPAs and become licensed, then that makes the pool greater, and then that also allows for a more diverse profession or diverse organizations. So, I definitely think it has a lot to do with just the pool of individuals and not knowing that the accounting profession is a lucrative profession. Like I always say, you grow up and your mom says, “Be a doctor or be a lawyer.” Like, nobody says be an accountant. Like, not in my house anyway. Like nobody said, “Okay, hey I think this accounting is great, “like, it’s really cool.” You know, you see your doctors and you see your lawyers, lawyers are in court, they have their suits on and they’re ready to speak before the judge. Same thing with doctors, you know, they have their stethoscope and you know, they’re ready to go perform surgery and we perform surgery everyday. I’m performing surgeries on people’s finances everyday. And it’s just as imperative and I think that if students can be able to see the profession in light that portrays what we really are, it’s not being countered. Have you ever Googled accountant? Those pictures aren’t relevant anymore, like at all.
– A few times.
– I hate Googling accountant. Exactly, and the pictures that come up, you’re like, “That’s not glamorous! “Like, I don’t wanna be an accountant “if that’s what’s it all about.” Like, they don’t see the side of it, that it is absolutely a six figure, you know, income for the profession. It is absolutely an equivalent to being a doctor and a lawyer. The educational side of it, to get the licenses, the credit hours, continuing education. It absolutely is and I think a lot of people just don’t see that. They don’t see that side of the profession, so it’s not appealing.
– So, what do you think would help inspire this profession as an option? What do you think would motivate people in general to see-
– The accounting profession as a valid option?
– I think it definitely should start at the high school, even middle school level, with at least an introductory class. A lot of schools focus on business, you know, but not specifically accounting. You know, in a business course, you may take like maybe a few modules of something on accounting, but it doesn’t focus on the accounting profession per se. And I remember someone speaking about that the National Society of Black CPAs is looking into doing a STEMA program. So STEM with an A on the end for accounting. So that now we get the systems and technologies and engineering and mathematics, whatever it is, and accounting on the end of that, so that it’s introduced at a early level. And that way, you know, kids can see this is A, a viable career, but the second part of that is people like myself and other successful African American CPAs going into the schools to say, “This is what an accountant looks like.” You know, “This is the life that you can lead, “you know, being an accountant. “You can be very successful. “You can make as much as a doctor or a lawyer, “you just have to continue on.” So, I think those two aspects will really, really increase it. A, introducing it you know, early in school and then B, having other professionals come into the schools and say, “Look, this is what-” And, on career day, you know, parents bring in, parents for career day come, you know you got your doctor, you got the , you got all of this, but again, how many accountants come to career day and say, “Look, this is a viable career, you can be very successful at it.”? So, I definitely think those are several avenues that can help increase it going forward.
– Absolutely and I think having someone like yourself who can come in as an example and show that you’re not that stuffy accountant in the picture that someone might think as a top of mind is probably helpful in general because I mean, I’ve talked to you quite a bit now and I find you to be a very fun, fun person.
– Exactly, I’m not a bean counter! I remember when I set my first corporate accounting job and we were doing an internal audit. So, you know, all of them walking around you know, auditing, we was at a college campus and one of the kids was like, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” And we were like, “We’re accountants.” And they look at me and he went, “You’re an accountant? “You don’t look like an accountant!” What does an accountant look like? So, but that’s what you picture. When you grow up and you picture an accountant, you know, you don’t picture regular people. I mean like, so yes, I always, like I laugh about this, ’cause they were like, “You’re an accountant?” Yeah, I’m an accountant, what’s wrong with that?
– So, let’s talk a little bit about support, ’cause you’ve brought it up a lot, and we know it’s an important factor on the path to success for anyone. And I would love to get your thoughts on recommendations for parents, educators, employers, mentors, on how to support these women, specifically African American women as they’re working towards their accounting degrees and later CPA licensure.
– Yeah, so parents will have probably little impact unless they are CPAs or someone in the family, ’cause usually when kids are inspired to whatever profession, its because they know someone, or you know, someone in their family, their mother or father, so they’re carrying on you know, whatever the legacy is. So, unless you have an immediate family member or a parent, then the parent level is kinda difficult, however, the educator level, I think will be most impactful, because those are the ones who you admire your teachers. I to this day, my algebra teacher, I’ll give her shout out, Miss Barbara Burns at Jones high school, she was my algebra teacher and she would get on me every day. If I said any question and I said, “O” instead of zero, she’d get on me every time. And to this day I remember that. Like, she’d be like, “O isn’t a letter!” Or, I’m sorry, “O isn’t a number!” and I’m like, “Oh, zero, I’m sorry, zero!” But, I remember that. And she like inspired me. And I tell people all the time, like you don’t have to be a mathematician to be an accountant. Really, if you can add and subtract, throw a little algebra in there, because you need to figure out the missing components, then your goods. So my algebra class really impacted me a lot and I will never forget it. Like, she really inspired me to just kind of go further into it. So I definitely think teachers and education level is really important especially like I said, even if it’s in elementary as an introduction, in middle school maybe a little more in depth, but then high school having an actual accounting, intro to accounting, something type of course that they can take even if it’s an elective to get a true introduction to it, I think will be very impactful. I also think those college professors, because we see statistically that people are majoring especially African Americans are majoring in accounting. They’re getting accounting degrees, but it’s the certification that’s lacking. And as professors you know, you encourage your students to do well, you encourage them to graduate and what they aren’t doing is encouraging them to license and that’s a big difference in salary. So, you just see an accountant and you’re thinking, “Well, they only make you know, 50-60” You know, whatever’s going rate is when you’re not licensed. And that may not be appealing, ’cause they’re thinking. “Well, why would I go to school for four years? “And then you know, another two, “because you need 150 credit hours. “So, most of that comes with a master’s degree “and I’m only making such and such.” Well, you’re making that if you aren’t licensed. So, I think at the collegiate level of professors need to encourage, to move forward, go straight through to your master’s and start preparing for the CPA exam, and it curves into go four. Yes, you can have a good career without certification, but you can have a great career if you’re certified. So, I always kind of you know, you can, nurses are wonderful and we need them, but if you want to pump it up a level, then you need to go become a master. So, whatever it is, it’s still set to the process and when you get to the level of certification, it’s a much more lucrative career. And that is of course more appealing to people. So, I think at the collegiate level, definitely professors have to encourage the students to continue on for licensure.
– I think, yeah, and hey, I’ll talk your head off I’m sorry. So, but mentally, so I think that comes into account at every level. So, whether it’s at the high school level, the college level, or even after you finish, and say you’ve gotten accounting degree, but you just haven’t become licensed, at any of those levels mentorship is important, because you need that person to continue, because it’s not easy, it is not easy! Like, you know, any profession work isn’t always easy, so you definitely have to have somebody that continues to push you, continuing to say, “Okay well, this is where you are now, “but what is your goal?” And helping you achieve that goal. And that’s what people, the mentors, and the lady ambassadors, and all the people that we were trying to recruit to assist with that coming in, because it’s easy to give up and easy to say, “Well, you know, “this is difficult, I’m not dealing with this!” And a thing is when you’re a doctor, you have cohorts. So you know, you have a group of people that you come in with, you all may go to residency or something together, so you continue to encourage each other along the way, but in the accounting profession, usually after you graduate with your master’s your pool is getting smaller. So, then you go to get your master’s. Well, all your friends have fallen off somewhere along the way. So, by the time you get to licensure and studying, you’re like, on an island. So, when you feel like, “Oh, I don’t have anyone. “I don’t know what’s going on? “What do I do next? “I’m having problems, I’m not happy!” Whatever it is. So, that’s where that mentorship really comes in handy to be able to see the guide through the process that keeps the people or person encouraged to continue through.
– So I’m just curious then, because I know that mentorship is a huge part of what The Lady CPA Organization does. At what point in the process do you generally see members join seeking mentorship?
– It’s a broad range. So, it’s either they just completed college or they’re near the end and have started studying for the CPA exam, or we find that it’s older women and older, I mean you know, already started a career, probably been in the field 10, 15 years, and then decided that, “Okay, now I want to “go back and become licensed.” Very few are in the middle, ’cause you’re either gonna do it right out of college, or you’re not gonna do it until you’re established in the career. And that’s kind of why we see both ends of the spectrum. Coming out of college is always a great thing because you don’t usually have kids or you’re probably not married yet. So, there’s less responsibility. So, it’s quicker for you to pay. You have time to study, you know, you’re maybe still living at home or something like that. So, you do pass quicker. However, what we found with those recent grads that are passing the CPA exam, is that they don’t have the work experience. And that’s one of the things you have to have to become licensed. So, you still have to have worked under a CPA you know, some states it’s a year, some states two, some just go by the hours, a thousand hours or something like that. So, that’s always a challenge. But again, if you’re a new grad, you can take an entry level position to get that experience that you need and move on. It becomes difficult when you’re older, because you have responsibilities. So it’s, the studying process is longer. The time commitment is a true sacrifice. The monetary commitment can also be a bit tough. And I’ve actually had ladies that had to leave you know, whatever job they were in, that they probably loved or paid really well, but they needed to work on their CPA. So, I have one in particular that just passed, shout out to Chanell, she just passed, but she had to quit her job and go work for a CPA firm where she was making half the amount that she was making at her prior job. She needed the hours and she had to work up on her CPA to become licensed. I remember when she contacted me a few months ago. It’s really tough, because she’s a single mom.
– So she was like, “I have bills to pay and this is becoming like, “this job is just not cutting it.” And she was like, “What do I do?” And I honestly told her her family comes first and responsibilities come first. If you have a job and you can’t pay your bills then you need to go back to the job that pays the bills and we can work virtually and remotely under a CPA. You don’t have to go sit in their office and work up under a CPA and take you know, less pay. Continue with your job, we’ll find you a remote position where you’re just helping a CP out, it doesn’t have to be full time, you can still get the hours you need and that’s what she ended up doing. She just passed her last part last week. So, she’s waiting.
– That’s such good advice though too. I don’t know if a lot of people realize that you don’t necessarily have to do it all at the same time, that you can take your time, that there is that 18 month window to pass the exam. And like you’re saying, people are gonna do better right out of school, but so, why not use your brain when it’s in school mind, get through the exam and then-
– Get the experience as you can.
– Yes. It is hindsight 2020, I would have definitely done it back then. But I was, you know, my story though, I wasn’t even going to school for accounting. I was going to school to be a lawyer, but hindsight is 2020. It was much more difficult to do it when you’re married, you have kids and you’re working full time, or running a business like I was doing. It did make it more difficult, but I also can say once you’re older you’re more determined. So, I wasn’t giving up. I’m like, “Okay, I didn’t pass it. “Let’s get back to it.” I always tell my girls, you got one day to cry. After that one day, we’re studying again. So, cry for a day and then study, because it has to be done, it’s the perseverance, that’s all it is. And a lot of people become discouraged, even new graduates, because they feel like, “Well, I just graduated with a 4.0. “You know, I just finished my master’s degree with a 4.0 “and this test is kicking my butt.” And I tell people it has nothing to do with what you learned in school, bare minimum of what you learned in school. You’re a recent grad, then kudos to you, but you’re still learning new information. And one advantage I can say is after you work you do have real life experience, so you can relate the information that you’re reading to what you do everyday. When you’re a new grad and haven’t worked, you’re trying to figure out, “What do I relate this to? “Like, I don’t know what this means.” ‘Cause you haven’t been in the workforce and I think that’s really important for audit. Something like audits where an auditor worked internal audits and some of stuff is kind of second nature and you get it. But if it’s completely do to or asking so many people like, “Oh my god, I was so smart in school “and I was on the dean’s list, and this test is killing me!” This is not a test of brains or IQ, it is a test of perseverance. Study, study, keep studying, keep thinking, keep studying, keep thinking, and eventually you’ll get there. It might take a while, but you’ll get there.
– And by the way everyone, that’s why you have review courses, right?
– Absolutely, exactly! And I don’t know how anybody would do it without one. Like, I have to say, like, that’s just insane to me! Like, I see people and it’s affordability I know, because some people especially on the Facebook groups and stuff, they’ll go, “Hey, does anybody have any old rosters?” And I’m like, you really don’t want any old material because that changes. And they’ll be like, “Okay.” Yeah, like, scan some pages you know, and it’s sad because I guess, you know, it is expensive, but I tell people life’s expensive! You know, it’s worth the sacrifice. Like, sometimes if you want something bad enough, then you have to do whatever it takes. So if that’s, you know, when we go to school, it’s debt, you know, scholarships or whatever. But I mean, at the master’s level, I didn’t come out of college debt free, I don’t know about anybody else! But it’s debt that’s worth it. Definitely debt that’s well worth it. So, you know, I kind of look at it that way, definitely.
– Well great, thank you. I have one more question for you. And it’s about The Lady CPA. I’m curious, do you have any initiatives that you’re excited about that are coming up, that you think will inspire young African American women to explore the accounting profession?
– Yeah, so we’ve actually had several going on. So we started, I think in September with our weekly webinars, those have been mainly for people either in the profession already or who are studying, ’cause we have a mental wellness webinar on stress management, because the stress of taking these tests, will just run anybody crazy. And sometimes when people think of testing in CPAs and accounting, they think of you know, the taxes, and the audit, but everything is beneficial. Learning how to manage your stress is beneficial. We had a webinar on organizing the workflow and studying, get yourself organized, cleaning your area, make sure your note pads are stocked, and your pens and pencils are in order, you know, you can’t study in chaos. So, and that webinar did really well. We actually had the Michigan Society of CPAs reach out, they want us to re-record that webinar, so that they can offer it for their continuing education, ’cause it was just not organizing your workflow, because people just get so bombarded and unorganized and you’re wondering why you can’t study effectively and you have chaos around you. So that was a really good one. We had a couple more. We’re pausing the webinars, because we are starting our new initiative, which is a live study session. So, we get questions all the time and it’s kind of like, “Okay well, I see this question, but I don’t get it. “Or I got it wrong and I see the right answer.” Which is why I love Roger, because it shows you the right answers, tells you why it’s right, but then it also tells you why the others are wrong. And that’s what I was missing when I was studying. It’s like, “Okay, well you told me I got it wrong, “but I don’t understand why that it’s wrong.” So, that added you know, information of why it’s wrong and an actual illustration that shows you this is what it is, or this kind of helps you understand better, is fantastic! So, we’re starting on live study sessions. So, it’s gonna be six weeks for about an hour. We’ll have an actual professor and a Lady ambassador on the call. So, it’ll be someone who’s already a CPA, but as someone who is a professor, because again, what I learned is everybody can’t lecture. You know, Roger makes it fun so you can actually pay attention. Some of the other study sessions, I tune them out in five minutes and when I look up I’m like, “Oh, wait, what happened?” I completely missed it! So, I’m just like, “I have listened to the lectures “and I still don’t get it.” So, having someone who’s a professor who knows how to teach, because everybody can’t teach and I always say that. Like, you know, you can lecture that at me, you’re teaching anything, you’re just talking.
– So, yeah, having a professor that knows how to teach and has a Lady ambassador who is a CPA, so they’ve been there team up together to host these live study sessions. So, for those, if you’re a member it’s $60 for the six week sessions, like $10 a session. If you’re a non-member it’s $75 and you just come ready. And the first 10 minutes is meditation. Just figuring out how to clear your mind before you get into this, because we’ll work all day long and then sit down and study. Well, you haven’t had time to bring your mind together. And then you wonder why you can’t focus when you’re sitting there trying to study. And it’s like, you just went from working, or went from dealing with the kids, sat down, started studying and you’re not focused. So, the first 10 minutes of every study session, she’s gonna actually teach you how to bring your mind and concentrate and meditate. And then she’s gonna go through different learning styles, because everyone learns differently. And you know, some people may be able to read it and pick it up. Some people may need to hear it. And some people may just need a teacher to show it. So, she’ll go through all of that. So, that is a great initiative that I’m really looking forward to that one because I definitely think it’ll help a lot.
– That sounds awesome!
– We also have- Yeah, I like that one. And we’re gonna offer a give away for anyone that attends all of the sessions, you’ll be put into a raffle and they’re gonna win, we will pay for The Lady CPA, will pay for their next . So whatever section you’re taking next, that’s like what, a 200 or something dollar value, ’cause when I was taking it it was 275 a section. So, you will be entered into that raffle, we’ll pay for your next section as long as you attend all of the study sessions.
– That is a great opportunity!
– Yeah. It was my heart and desire not to charge at all for the study sessions, but we have to limit the space. So if I have 25 people that register and I cut it off, but then only five show up, you know, I’ve missed the opportunity for 20 other people that wanted to be there. So, we feel like if we at least charge a nominal fee, at least that shows the commitment to showing up to the sessions, because we have to limit it. We can’t have it open and then show up in this complete chaos. So, I definitely encourage everybody to register. Yeah. ’cause people will be like, “Well, why aren’t you charging for it?” Well, because we’ve had things that are free and 200 people registered and then didn’t show up. So, it was like, you know, some type of safety to gain, . It makes you say, “Okay, let me commit to this or do it.” So, that’s why that is. And one last thing that we are going to start, I don’t know the date yet, because it just started, it was a great idea. I get men all the time that say, “Well, what about me?” or “Do we qualify?” And I tell them, man, our webinars, our study sessions, it’s open to everyone. You know, we’re The Lady CPA, so of course we advertise to women, but it’s definitely open to everyone. So, we came up with this idea and it’s gonna be a program under The Lady CPA. So, it won’t be a completely separate organization, but a program called, “Strength In Numbers”. Men are strong and accounted when numbered. So we’re gonna call it, “Strength In Numbers” and that’s gonna be geared toward young men. So, that we can get to some of the CPA men to go into the schools and encourage the young men to again, pursue the careers, go on to become certified, and show them that, “I’m a big burly black man and I’m in accounting!” Like again, and there is no face to accounting, it’s just whatever you love to do and the love of numbers, and the love of helping people, because I help people all the time. I mean, it’s about helping people. You’re helping business owners. You’re helping, you know, work, or whatever it is, it’s still, I tell people I’m part accountant and part therapist, because you’re dealing with financials, which is always a sensitive issue for people. And people go through stuff. So, you have to be able to be both a therapist and an accountant. And it’s a wonderful profession, it really is. I tell people everyday, I love what I do. And a lot of people can’t say that, but I actually love what I do. My husband’s like, “You’re a workaholic, “but at least you love what you do!”
– I can see that and I believe it. You seem very excited and passionate about what you do.
– Yeah, it’s fun. It keeps you going, that’s for sure. There’s never a dull moment and I’m never not busy! Yeah, I can never say that I didn’t do anything today, that’s for sure. Always busy, always got something to do. But yeah, so I’m really excited about that initiative to help young men get into the profession as well. So, that’ll be “Strength In Numbers”. You’ll probably see something come out next week about that. Not separate from The Lady CPA, the program that we’re gonna run under The Lady CPA, so that we can also encourage the young men you know, to come aboard and make sure they’re becoming certified again. ‘Cause the overall mission is really just to increase the number of African American CPAs, male, female, it doesn’t matter. ‘Cause right now we’re still years into this at less than 1%, especially when you look at the executives and partners within the profession. And to me, that’s crazy for people who I think the first certification started in like 1920 something for African Americans. And now, we’re in the year 2020 going into 2021 and we’re still not even more than 1%. And then you still have doctors who are at seven, on the rise and lawyers who are like 13% and continue to rise in our profession, which is crazy.
– It’s crazy, I mean, I think that’s where we should dive in next time that we meet, because that’s definitely an area to unpack and talk about you know, problem and solution, right?
– Yes, I whole heartedly agree, because it definitely did start with ancestors, or the first CPAs and how difficult it was for them to become licensed, that I think along the way people just didn’t even consider accounting profession as a whole. So now, that you know, we’re talking more about it, it’s becoming more relevant and the numbers are increasing as far as majoring in it, but the numbers still aren’t increasing for licensure. So, we have to push past that point to get licensed.
– All right, well, I’m excited for that. Getting into that.
– Yes! I am looking forward to it, absolutely!
– And we’re excited to continue partnering with your organization. Once again, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today and thank you for everyone who’s tuned in. If you want to learn more about The Lady CPA, please visit TheLadyCPANetwork.com and you can also follow The Lady CPA on social media @TheLadyCPA on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and there’s also a LinkedIn account as well that you could follow.
– Thank you so much JaJuan, for your time!
– Thank you guys so much! Absolutely, I always look forward to talking with you guys. Absolutely looking forward to the scholarship giveaways and can’t wait util- And my dog, of course, at the end!
– And your dog!
– Oh, I have a great dane, so she sounds like a bear!
– Well, thanks so much, take care!
– Thank you guys! Thank you, see you.
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