USC National Association of Black Accountants paves way for diversity in business

The chapter provides a diverse student group with connections to the Big Four and Fortune 500s.

The USC National Association of Black Accountants hosts resume workshops, sponsors trips off campus and offers networking opportunities for students, as part of its intiative to foster the next generation of accountants. (Vincent Leo / Daily Trojan)

In the United States, 84% of certified public accountants are white. Only 4% are Hispanic or Latine, and 2% are Black. USC’s National Association of Black Accountants is looking to break this pattern. 

Bryan Alexander is a junior majoring in business administration and this year’s NABA chapter president at USC. Since assuming the board position in July, Alexander worked alongside associate professor of clinical accounting Zivia Sweeney to redevelop the organization and bring accounting opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds at USC. Although the club struggled and became defunct throughout its initial years of development, Alexander is optimistic about the year that lies ahead. 

“The reason why I love Sweeney and NABA so much and why I agreed on the spot to take over is because I come from East Los Angeles, which is a primarily Hispanic area with very low funding [and] bad education for the most part,” Alexander said. “By the whole core of the program, NABA really tries to give diverse students opportunities that they never would’ve known about before.”

Although Alexander only recently assumed his leadership position, Sweeney has been driven to develop a successful NABA chapter at USC since students asked her to be an advisor several years ago and she saw the organization’s benefits on other campuses. 

“NABA is a wonderful vehicle on a lot of different levels,” Sweeney said. 

NABA helps students leverage the Trojan Network early and get in front of employers at early stages of their careers. The organization also provides these opportunities for a large community of first-generation students like herself, Sweeney said. 

The organization now includes students from many different backgrounds and majors who can utilize the opportunities NABA offers. 

“We just want to make sure that everyone feels welcome and everyone is invited,” Alexander said. 

Joseph Ogunmola, a junior majoring in business administration and NABA’s director of marketing, said NABA has inspired members to switch into accountancy by showing them the multitude of opportunities for career growth. 

The NABA board organizes group excursions, resume workshops and networking opportunities with its members. Sweeney said the Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young — have started to seek out partnerships with NABA. Deloitte Global CEO Joseph Ucuzoglu connected Sweeney with a regular contact who works with the club on hiring opportunities. 

From an industry standpoint, it is equally as important for these firms to hire diverse accounting professionals as it is for students of diverse backgrounds to have these opportunities, Ogunmola said.

Sweeney said she wants to give credit to the staff at other firms, including Grant Thornton LLP and Andersen Los Angeles, who are working closely to support NABA this year. 

“Sometimes people say ‘Oh, I’m all for diversity,’ and it’s just a bunch of talk,” Sweeney said. “The firms that I am dealing with, they are coming to the table with the resources, they are coming to the table with the jobs for our students.” 

To maximize these career opportunities, NABA members support each other in ensuring they are over-prepared with in-depth resumes and work experience. Alexander said he believes there will always be racial biases in the business industry’s hiring process, NABA students have a better chance at earning opportunities if they are over-prepared.

Ogunmola has experienced some of these challenges in the hiring process first hand. 

“As a Black man, there’s always that concern of how you talk in an interview, if you sound a little bit too different than how they expect you to sound or if your hair looks a certain way,” he said. “The whole idea is also to make sure to build up our resumes and network to the fact that these firms know we are good enough to be here.”

Alexander, Ogunmola and Sweeney all value the sense of community within the club. Seeing students advocate for each other drove her to continue her role as an advisor. 

“I really view our students as checking their egos and anything else at the door,” Sweeney said. “The fact that my students treat each other with such dignity and respect and they want to help each other, that’s really them understanding the meaning of the Trojan Family.” 

When Sweeney graduated from USC and entered the business industry in 1979, she was the only Black woman in some of her audit teams, and the only Black person in others. Now, Fortune 500 and Big Four companies look to NABA for recruitment, seeking out diverse students from USC and other universities as the future leaders in accounting. 

NABA boasts an extensive list of industry partners, including Baker Tilly, BDO, Gallagher, Amwins and Mazars Group, Sweeney said. Key personnel — including Rod Adams, national talent acquisition partner at PwC, or Patrick Niemann, national partner at EY — are the cornerstone of these relationships.

“They need to be lauded publicly for their efforts at our university,” Sweeney wrote in an email.

This year, NABA is also partnering with other organizations and faculty at the Marshall School of Business and the Leventhal School of Accounting, including the Black Business Association and the Accounting Society. Marshall’s assistant director of undergraduate advising and student affairs Mayra Abrams, assistant dean and director Tiffiani Frye and Levanthal director Arthur Alba are important supporters of NABA, Sweeney said. 

“With these diverse programs … you can really see the drive and passion. Everyone in the room doesn’t normally have these opportunities, this is all new stuff,” Alexander said. “Our families worked hard for us all to even just be at USC, let alone at the Big Four. I think these programs have been a really good help to where we can be considered at the very least in these application processes.” 

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