Behind the career: Angela Avant

November 17, 2013

Position: President and chief executive of the National Association of Black Accountants, a professional membership organization that represents the interests of African Americans and other minorities in accounting, auditing, taxation, finance, consulting, government and information technology.

When Angela Avant chose accounting as a major in college, she knew the profession could pose a challenge because there were relatively few African Americans in the field. But she never looked back. After graduation, she landed a role at one of the largest public accounting firms, and in five years became a manager. After moving to Corning and becoming a global director there, she was recruited to be the inspector general of the District of Columbia at 34 years old. After her term, she moved to KPMG and rose to partner. The firm appointed her to lead its diversity initiative. Now, as head of the National Association of Black Accountants, she looks to increase the representation of minorities in the accounting field.

What lessons did you draw from your time as inspector general of the District?

I was in that role for 18 months. I began to understand the politics of working in a government-appointed position. During my time, it was the mayor, city council and Congress that provided the oversight body, so they could summon me to the Hill at any time. With all the issues and challenges, I learned how to juggle those relationships. You have to develop relationships. If you don’t have them, you will not succeed. They are what help keep you in the game and take you higher in the game. You don’t work in a vacuum. You work in teams. You have to have relationships with your team members, the people you report to and the people who report to the people you report to.

What have you learned are the keys to developing professional relationships?

You’re not going to have the same relationship with everyone you meet. Some will be deep. Some will be shallow. Some will be somewhere middle-of-the-road. You just don’t have time to have a deep relationship with everyone. Depending on where you are and what you’re trying to accomplish, that helps define what that relationship needs to look like.

What are your thoughts about the amount of diversity in the accounting field these days?

We still have a lot of work to do. We’re supposed to have more representation. That’s why it was important for me to stay in the fight and do a good job, so I can be a role model to those that look like me and who will be coming behind me, and to also show firms that we can be successful in these environments.

What are the challenges to having minorities well represented in the field?

It used to be said by some “I can’t find the right people.” Well, we know that’s not true. There’s a lot of recruitment, but there’s not the level of recruitment and advancement that should be there. When you look at the number of African Americans who serve on public company boards, it’s a speckle compared to the thousands. You take a mirror and shine it on this profession and you find, again, that there’s been tremendous progress and we’re a lot further along than we used to be. Retention and advancement is still a continuing challenge.

Why?

Companies have to understand the importance of it and value of diversity in an organization. It’s not just about having it for the purposes of numbers: having two blacks, an Asian, a woman, a black male, etc. It’s about really appreciating the value that comes from bringing diverse people together, from bringing their different perspectives. When you do that, you’ll have a better product or service or whatever you’re providing.

Which business books are you reading?

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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