I have not shied away from challenging roles or career paths. I knew that accounting was challenging before I entered the field. It has historically been, and still is, a male-dominated profession. I knew that when I chose my major. It’s why I chose my profession.
I became interested in accounting through my aunt, who told me about the first African American certified public accountant in Virginia.
I began to see more images of successful women who were dressed as business professionals. It was very appealing. So, after doing some research, I decided to major in accounting.
I never looked back.
I began my career with Arthur Andersen, which at the time was the largest accounting firm in the world.
When I started out, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. Finding a role model was not easy.
So I decided to focus on doing a great job. I would always have to do better than the best. I demonstrated technical skills, people skills, leadership ability, responsibility and accountability, and I represented the firm well.
That’s when I got involved with the National Association of Black Accountants. The group helped me develop the tools I needed to be successful in the workplace.
After five years, I became the firm’s first African American manager. The next step would have been partner, the ultimate position.
But it became unclear whether I would make partner. At that point, there was only one other African American female who made partner in the Washington region.
I decided to pursue other opportunities to gain additional skills that would make me more marketable.
I left the firm and went to Corning, a Fortune 100 company. I was the worldwide director of internal audit and worked on mergers and acquisitions.
Then I was appointed inspector general of the District of Columbia.
I had no idea of the challenges I faced.
The city was on the brink of financial collapse. Everyone was worried that fraud, waste and financial abuses were rampant. A control board, appointed by the president, was put in place to oversee the operations and spending of the city.
Being a young, accomplished African American female in that role was pretty incredible.
What I didn’t know at the time was the politics involved. I was used to being in a client-service environment. But it was an incredible experience to have had that opportunity to do some important work.
From there I went to KPMG. I created the Washington-Baltimore internal audit practice from scratch.
I ultimately became partner at KPMG and was eventually tapped to be the partner in charge of diversity.
I helped the company demonstrate the importance of diversity. We created skill-building programs, conducted webinars and regional symposiums, and created opportunities for minority employees to solve problems and discuss issues they were facing.
In three years, we added four African American female partners, bringing the total to six. We also reported better retention rates for African Americans.
After 11 years, I left the firm and the partnership.
Now here I am.
Some would say I’ve come full circle.
NABA has been my second career. It’s something I am passionate about.
I do consider it a blessing that I get to lead an organization that has meant so much to me and has helped others like me.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
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.
Career highlights: Partner in charge of diversity and partner of advisory services, KPMG; inspector general, District of Columbia; manager of mergers and acquisitions, director of worldwide internal audit, Corning; senior manager of audit, Arthur Andersen.
Education: BS, accounting and finance, Virginia State University.
Personal: Lives in the District with husband Michael C. Rogers.