Inspiring Others

September 23, 2022

By Cynthia Jimenez
As part of CalCPA’s commitment to raising awareness for DE&I initiatives, the Los Angeles Chapter’s Management of Accounting Practice Committee held a panel discussion designed to raise awareness of biases, help firms attract and retain talent, drive equity in career promotion and increase accountability for progress.

Moderated by Sherrlene Reno, a 25-year veteran of business management and public accounting, the panel included Erika Hill, CPA and business manager at Savitsky Satin Bacon Bucci; Debra Horn, CPA and tax manager at ASL CPAs; Suzie Doran, CPA and audit partner at Singer Lewak; Laura Rutebuka, CPA and director at Life Line Financial Group; and Rosa Kuybus, a member of the CalCPA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission.

Reno opened the discussion sharing her journey into public accounting. Throughout her career in business management, she encountered minorities in high-level management roles, but never at the partner level. “Until five years ago, I was at a firm that was acquired. I found out there was an African American female partner. Not only was I excited, but also I was inspired. All I wanted to do was work beside her and find out how she got to where she was. I was happy to know there was a possibility for somebody like me, and others in the field.”

Horn began her career in a small city in the Midwest. Her background in public accounting was untraditional. While she had a strong working relationship with her team, a part of her was made less visible and she felt like she couldn’t bring her full self to work. Horn is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and although in her personal life she was the happiest she had ever been, she felt conversations about her sexual orientation were very awkward to discuss among her colleagues. “In the city and state where I worked, you can be fired or even denied housing for your sexual orientation. The threat of me losing my job was real, especially when the reactions came from people with power over me.”

Diversity and inclusion were evident at an early age for Hill, who faced numerous stereotypes growing up in a predominately Caucasian community. “As a person of color, I had to work twice as hard as my classmates to show my worth. And just to make sure I didn’t fit some crazy or ignorant stereotype I had to shrink and not be too loud or too excited or passionate, not challenge anyone around me or ruffle any feathers to blend in and appear as non-threatening as possible, so no one around me felt uncomfortable, even if that was at my own detriment.” 

As an African American woman working in an industry dominated by men, Hill mentioned it has been tough for her to navigate through a lot of spaces without shrinking or bypassing a lot of those microaggressions.

Mentorship played a key role for Doran and Kuybus. “It’s really important to find people who have diverse views and different perspectives because those are the people who will elevate you,” said Doran.

Kuybus contributes success to her mentors and spoke about growing up in the foster care system and facing much diversity. “I have faced many challenges. It’s because of those mentors, the people I’ve been surrounding myself with that have helped me succeed, get to where I’m at now and continue to where I want to be.”

Adopting a culture that is open to change can create stability and authenticity within the workplace. Rutebuka suggests employers not be afraid to ask some of the tough questions when it comes to hiring and retention. “If you have staff that is diverse, but your leadership team looks nothing like that, then it’s not representative of your staff,” she said. “Is nobody qualified? Is there a culture or a retention issue? What’s really going on?”. 

DE&I has impacted the panelists’ decisions to leave a firm or hindered decisions to accept an offer at some point in their career. To bridge the gap between the claim and the norm, leadership should set the tone and be accountable.
Cynthia Jimenez is CalCPA’s LA Chapter program manager.
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