From the Frontlines: Meet Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA
Welcome to the first post in a series focused on sharing the perspective of diverse CPAs
Full disclosure: All through my years in school, I was known as a teacher’s pet. Some kids may have been discouraged by this status, but it didn’t bother me. I had my heart set on a career—at the ripe old age of 8—and that was to become a CPA.
So I went out of my way to surround myself with educators — teachers, principals, librarians — that set high expectations for me and helped get me closer to that goal. Moreover, they returned the favor by setting high expectations for me. There was always a voice in my childhood saying, “This little girl has potential.”
Of course, having potential is just the beginning. Moving the needle to accomplishment takes hard work and the right people in your corner, a combination I’ve wholeheartedly embraced on my path to success.
As we conclude Black History Month, I think back to my formative years and the unwavering support of my parents and their emphasis on education. Not so long ago in U.S. history, severe systemic impediments would have blocked the educational and professional journey of someone like me. Breaking through during that era required no small amount of determination, and I’m in awe of pioneers like John Cromwell Jr., the first African-American CPA, and Mary T. Washington, the first female African-American CPA.
With their legacies in mind, what are my thoughts about the progress we’ve made in the profession?
For starters, I represent the CPA who grew up in an inner-city, majored in information systems and not accounting (because an accounting major was not offered and I had a full scholarship), studied accounting in community college, and then later earned MBA and M.S. degrees.
John and Mary would appreciate that my career path would be considered unconventional and unexpected — probably similar to theirs. On the other hand, when I meet with minority and underrepresented CPAs across the country, I find that the road less traveled is often a common thread. The key point I stress is this: our paths may have been different than traditional CPAs, but that does not mean we have less knowledge or abilities.
In fact, my detour into information systems turned out to be one of my greatest professional differentiators. At a time when computing began to affect every aspect of daily life, I had an advantage: fluency in the language of the CPA and tech world. Yes, I followed a different career playbook, but it has served me—and the organizations I’ve worked for—so very well.
Consider if my path had been held against me, simply because it fell outside of what is considered the norm. It’s time to reevaluate the perceived notions of what qualifies as conventional and I’m actively engaged in a greater conversation around diversity and inclusion. CPAs are bolder about broaching that topic. I’ve been very pleased with this awareness in the profession, including the inroads made in the executive suite. Leaders have realized that organizational inclusiveness takes effort.
We can make the next wave of progress with middle management and how they approach recruitment and talent development. Whether true in practice or not, underrepresented minorities have the perception that hiring practices are inconsistent at best. What’s driving the view? Perhaps underlying processes or unconscious biases validate the concern. The solution? We must address the environment that perpetuates the perception and taking the time to acknowledge this issue is a great place to start. I ask every company I visit to review their hiring policies to see if standards are consistent throughout the organization. I’m asking you to consider it as well.
I know the AICPA is serious about diversity and inclusion. The board of directors is serious about diversity and inclusion. As more and more CPAs join our efforts, changes should filter into all areas of organizations and the profession overall. That’s one of the best ways we can advocate for future talent — so up-and-coming CPAs can see a place for themselves within the profession.
As for continuing my year as vice chairman, I am so excited. I am standing on the shoulders of giants like John and Mary. Forty years ago, this role wouldn’t have been a possibility. It’s an honor, I am so appreciative, and wherever I am needed, I will make myself available. I’m raising my hand. I hope you’ll join me.
Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA , Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, American Institute of CPAs.