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VSCPA Black History Month Spotlight: Henry Davis III, CPA

June 21, 2018

February is Black History Month, and the VSCPA is spending the entire month spotlighting the contributions of our African-American members. Our latest spotlight member is Henry Davis III, CPA, director of finance and budget in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He is a member of the VSCPA Board of Directors.

Picture of Henry Davis

VSCPA: What led you to the accounting profession?
HD: What led me to the accounting profession is an interesting story. When I went to the University of Virginia, I thought I was going to be an electrical engineer. However, after a year of engineering classes, I knew that engineering was not for me. 

I was thinking “What can I do now?” and remembered that I took an accounting class in high school and I really liked it. I decided to apply to the McIntire School of Commerce, and I had to take all of the necessary prerequisites in order to even apply. I did that, got accepted and declared accounting as my major, and the rest is history.

VSCPA: What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
HD: The most fulfilling thing I find about my career is that I feel great when I can help people understand financial information, particularly people whose background is limited in understanding it. Whether it is talking about budgets, forecasting, and/or financial statements. I get a sense of pride helping non-financial individuals understand enough to become comfortable with the financial information they have to make good business decisions. 

VSCPA: Who are the role models and mentors who have helped you in your life? In your career?
HD: My role models that have helped me in my life have been my parents and grandparents. They showed me how to have a strong work ethic and to be persistent about any goals I want to accomplish. They instilled in me the attitude that I can do anything I want if I put the time and effort into it. I do not have a specific career mentor but all of the managers that I have had in past and currently are and were my career mentors. I observed and took note of all the good qualities that made them a great manager/leader. By collecting all of this information through observations and discussions with my managers, it has made me a better manager/leader.

VSCPA: How can the accounting profession ensure a diverse workforce in the future?
HD: To ensure a diverse workforce in the future, the profession will have to very intentional in promoting diversity. This starts with CPA awareness programs in high schools exposing young accounting professionals especially minorities to the accounting field to all the different opportunities available to an accountant. Once minority students see the value in what accountant with a CPA license can do and all of the opportunities that exist, I believe that there will be an increase in minorities joining the accounting profession.

Once they are in the profession, we have to increase in mentoring programs to retain the young professionals. Having professional mentors that are from different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders that are in leadership roles helps communicate to potential members of the profession that diversity in the profession and leadership roles are welcomed. This gives the potential members of the profession the possibility to believe that they could potentially make a career in this profession because they can see an opportunity to make a difference.

Krystal McCants, CPA
Senior Tax Manager
CST Group, CPAs, Reston

Picture of Krystal McCants

VSCPA: What led you to the accounting profession?
KM:  I can attribute the initial idea of accounting to my parents, both of whom worked with numbers either in their careers or with our church. I took an accounting class in high school and found it came naturally to me. I helped other people in my class with the problems and homework and at that time determined accounting was easy for me. This was an area where I felt I could be successful. My impression of accounting changed when I went to college where I found it challenging yet still interesting. That’s when I knew I was in the right place.

VSCPA: What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
KM: The most fulfilling aspect of my career is being able to work with and help so many different clients. The thing that keeps me motivated is knowing that I could potentially help my clients be in a better position financially.

VSCPA: Who are the role models and mentors who have helped you in your life? In your career?
KM: My biggest role models and mentors would be my parents. They instilled a strong work ethic in me and always believed that I could conquer the world if I was willing to set goals and work hard to achieve them. In my career, I would say the first partner I worked for had the biggest impression on me, though I’m sure she never knew it. She was great at showing her employees that she cared about them, but when she needed to be tough, you knew that it was about teaching you and helping advance your career.

VSCPA: What challenges do minorities face getting leadership opportunities in the profession?
KM: I believe one of the biggest challenges for minorities in leadership is we are, by definition, the minority. It’s not very often you see a person of color or a woman as a part of leadership in a firm. There seem to be a lot of old, deep-rooted stereotypes in this industry that still need to be overcome from what a leader should look like, act like and how they should think. The industry needs to be more flexible, which some may say is almost the opposite of an accountant’s way of thinking.

VSCPA: How can the accounting profession ensure a diverse workforce in the future?
KM: Once the workforce leadership is more diverse, I believe it will be more appealing to younger generations. They will look at the accounting industry and see it’s made up of many different individuals, cultures and ideals. Mentoring could play a vital role in helping shape these individuals and guide them in the direction to pursue their dreams. They need to see that we are accepting and flexible and that this is can be an interesting, rewarding career choice.

Johnathan Culbreath, CPA
Audit Senior, Friedman LLP

Picture of Johnathan Culbreath

Marlton, N.J. 

VSCPA: What led you to the accounting profession?
JC: I pursued an accounting degree looking for a foothold to the law enforcement field. As I learned more about the opportunities public accounting experience would bring and got to know the employers recruiting at VCU, I decided to see where a career in accounting would take me.

VSCPA: What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
JC: For me, the most fulfilling aspect is the opportunity to train newer staff and encourage them to continue learning and growing as young professionals. I also enjoy getting to know my clients and building the trust with them that facilitates cooperative working relationships.

VSCPA: Who are the role models and mentors who have helped you in your life? In your career?
JC: My mother came from rural South Carolina when I was very young and overcame many setbacks and barriers in life. She taught me how to deal with adversity and showed me the importance of making the most of every opportunity in a world that isn't always so kind.

A couple of senior managers (also Virginia CPAs) at Snyder Cohn in Bethesda, Md., encouraged me to have confidence in myself and really pushed me to expand my comfort zone to be a better professional.

VSCPA: What challenges do minorities face getting leadership opportunities in the profession?
JC: I can't speak for all minorities in the industry, but it is a fact that folks are more comfortable with what they know. There are some unfair generalizations out there which seem to provide justification for avoiding the uncomfortable questions regarding diversity in the workplace. A relationship that starts with a trust deficit has a small margin for error, creates a lot of pressure for all involved, and can be devastating to a young person just beginning their career, when guidance and encouragement is most critical. Confronting yourself can be painful and some folks may be afraid to even acknowledge the presence of these uncomfortable questions.

VSCPA: How can the accounting profession ensure a diverse workforce in the future?
JC: I have been fortunate that my employers have all valued, celebrated and sought diversity, but not everyone is afforded the same opportunity. I believe employers should encourage firm education and engagement with professionals of all different religions, genders, sexual orientations, races and abilities. Diversity training at annual CPA conferences can help equip firm leaders with tools to decided how to move forward.

James Young, CPA
Senior Accountant
The Capital Group, Norfolk

Picture of James Young

VSCPA: What led you to the accounting profession?
JY: I was attracted to the field of accounting because I enjoyed analyzing financial information and learning about what different companies do and how they do it. I also considered being a historian, a lawyer or a doctor. However, I ruled all of those out for different reasons. I decided being an accountant would make available a diverse set of career paths over my lifetime, produce an above average income potential and still be interesting.

VSCPA: What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
JY: The best part of my career has been the continued learning that I've had to do.  You never know it all in the field of business.

​VSCPA: Who are the role models and mentors who have helped you in your life and career?
JY: Regrettably, I have to admit that I haven't had a lot of role models or mentors in my career. The most prominent to me are a couple of managers I worked for in public. We spent lots of time talking about a variety of different things, many not even related to accounting. They gave me lots of advice about how to be successful in my career and were very supportive when I needed some employment decisions. One gentleman in particular was a generation or two older and gave me the benefit of his experience of watching the the profession, Norfolk, and the wider world change over a lifetime. I still consider both friends and always enjoy the rare occasion when I can talk with either of them.

VSCPA: What challenges do minorities face getting leadership opportunities in the profession?
JY: I think there are three challenges that need to be addressed in order to increase the number of minorities in the profession. The first is just sheer numbers.  If we can increase the number of minorities entering the profession, we'll have a larger pool of staff from which to select managers.  

Second, a stronger and more inclusive mentoring program would help minorities reach higher levels in their career. Very often, the lack of role models and sounding boards can impact a person's reaction and perceptions in the workplace.  As much as we like to think that promotions are done solely based on merit, the interpersonal relationship aspects can't be ignored. If a recruit is a minority or from a lower-income background, that young staff person may not even think that a mentoring relationship is truly welcome. Unfortunate, and in some cases, unfair as that may be, it is a gap that needs to be bridged through the initiative of older staff. That would also apply in cases where the younger staff may be demographically the same, but from a less advantaged economic background.

Third, managers must strive to make sure that development opportunities, including high-profile assignments, are available to everyone. Every person has to be given their chance to shine, not just a chosen few. Because of the lower numbers of minorities in the profession, minorities have a lower chance in that small group. Also, similar to mentoring, minorities or those from lower-income backgrounds may not know how to put themselves in position for those opportunities or might not even think their chances of being selected are high enough to warrant trying.

VSCPA: How can the accounting profession ensure a diverse workforce in the future?
JY: I think the key to ensuring a diverse workforce is to engage in efforts that are designed to prepare and attract minorities to the profession. Engagement is the key to both preparation and attraction. I think that a greater effort needs to be paid to promoting the accounting profession in the minority community. It's not that nothing is done now. But to be successful, constant reinforcement is required.

Accounting is not an easy field of study. I'm sure a lot of students shy away from it because of that. It's also not thought of as cool. I guess it's not. Those factors are probably more impactful in minority communities where the students don't have visibility to current practitioners. Members of the profession need to do a better job of getting the profession in the minds of students and the community. This can be done through doing more community engagement events, such as the presentations on college affordability and other events at high schools, colleges and even with the general public.

In addition, the profession could do a better job of engaging students to help them be prepared for whatever opportunities come their way. This can be done by directly engaging in schools with a large number of minorities and helping to teach the skills that are important to accountants. Our schools make an attempt at this, but again, constant reinforcement and actual modeling by current practitioners would be more effective. When possible, minority practitioners should be recruited to participate and possibly lead these efforts, but shouldn't be the only ones to do so. Working with a diverse group of people is a necessary skill in this field and should be part of the experience. As cultural fit is a obstacle for some students who may not have had a lot contact with professionals in the past, coaching in those areas should be provided, but in a non-patronizing, inoffensive way.

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