KyCPA Diversity and Inclusion Committee chair:
Rene Valadez Q&A
July 20, 2020
Rene Valadez, CPA, senior manager at Strothman + Co., shares his journey into the accounting profession and explores why the diversity and inclusion conversation is so important.
Click here to find out more about diversity and inclusion and the CPA profession. Valadez will be interviewed along with Kim Burse on KyCPA Behind the Numbers Podcast on August 12. Click here to subscribe to the podcast.
Tell us a little about your journey into the accounting profession.
As a kid, I never dreamed of becoming an accountant. I never thought about going to college, possibly because no one in my immediate family had a college degree. I first learned about accounting when I was in fifth grade, my mother started working as a bookkeeper for a small CPA firm in my native, Mexico. I moved to the U.S. at age 17, thanks to great people in my life, I received the encouragement needed to get my GED and later enroll in college and earn my accounting degree.
How important is diversity and inclusion to you and what value does it bring?
The person that I am today is the result of my life experiences. I think it is very valuable to understand what makes each of us unique. I believe our differences should not be used to segregate us; instead, they should be celebrated as they only enrich our communities. Diversity cannot happen without inclusion. Inclusion allows for our different perspectives to be valued and encourages participation; it helps develop a sense of community. Inclusive groups tend to be diverse and create an environment in which individuals blossom and groups excel.
What are some ways employers can make sure everyone feels included?
The first step is to accept that we live in an ever-changing world. Our perception of diversity varies depending on our generation. For an organization’s culture to be inclusive, it requires that everyone’s voice is heard and their opinion valued. Organizations should adopt a diversity policy and more importantly, management should recognize its importance by setting goals and metrics to periodically measure progress. Education is also a significant aspect, the organization must understand the benefits of an inclusive culture and managers may need to be educated on how to deal with a diverse workforce.
What are your most important values?
I believe in respect, hard work and honesty. Respect must be part of our everyday life, I believe it to be one of our basic rights as human beings. I take pride in being respectful to everyone I meet.
Many years ago, someone told me that I should never feel ashamed of my job, as long as the work was honest and I worked hard. I appreciate people who put forth their best effort, regardless of the outcome.
I am always grateful for the life that I have and for all of the people that have impacted me one way or another.
What is the purpose/goal of the committee?
The KyCPA Diversity and Inclusion Committee is a fifteen-member group; our mission is to include everyone, exclude no one. To be successful in this endeavor, we must assess where we are in regards to diversity and inclusion, create awareness about our efforts so we can engage more people in our cause, educate our members about the importance of inclusion, encourage active communication and ensure that opportunities are being created for our diverse accountants.
What steps has the committee taken already to reach this goal?
We are launching a survey that will help us better assess where we are in regards to diversity and inclusion in the profession in Kentucky. This short survey will give us insight as to an individual’s perception of inclusion in the profession and at their organization. It will also assist in identifying the concerns of our underrepresented groups. Another significant aspect of diversity is recruitment. We are working on partnering with high schools to include accounting in their curriculum so we can expose underrepresented groups to the profession. And we are also working with our minority college students to identify the issues that they are facing.
How can professionals get involved and support these efforts?
I am hoping that people are willing to express their ideas, hopes or concerns to our committee.
A key element to our success in ensuring that our profession is diverse and inclusive is by making sure that our existing diverse accountants are active and visible to underprivileged groups. We all have a story to tell and if our experiences and support can help someone find in accounting a way to fulfill their hopes, needs and dreams, that will ensure our success.
My dream is that anyone who wants to become a CPA has the support and encouragement needed to reach their full potential.
What have you seen the profession as a whole doing to combat the lack of diversity and inclusion?
The AICPA continuously shares publications and resources related to diversity and inclusion. They also have webcasts that cover the topic. Certain state societies have implemented mentorship programs, have publications and have partnered with companies to create scholarship programs for underrepresented groups.
The big four have all acknowledged the importance of diversity and inclusion. They have been very active in attracting and recruiting diverse employees and have improved their minority participation at the top levels.
Mid-size firms are starting to implement policies that allow for a more inclusive environment.
What challenges have you faced being a minority in the accounting profession?
I did not realize at the time, but now I can see that when I was in college, I would have benefited greatly from having a mentor who had a similar background as me. When I first entered the profession, I felt very lonely. It was difficult to relate to my peers, our backgrounds and perspectives were significantly different. There is always a tendency to group based on similarities, this causes prejudice. At times, it has been difficult to tell if my work is being judged fairly.
What advice do you have for underrepresented individuals who want a career in accounting?
Be proud of who you are. Realize that we all have something that makes us special and we all have something valuable to contribute. You should not be afraid of making your voice be heard. Work hard and stay the course, this is a great profession that provides a myriad of career paths.
Diversity and inclusion webinars (Non-CPE events)
Inclusion in the Accounting Profession: What It Looks Like Today August 13 (2-3:30 p.m.)
Recognizing and Neutralizing Bias
September 14 (2-3:30 p.m.)