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Accountlogo checkin Check-In | Episode 1: Jina Etienne

In our first issue of Check-InJina Etienne, CPA talks about simple ways organizations celebrate and recognize diversity all year long. Jina also shares what to expect in her Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion series of webinars in 2023.

Diversity in Accounting Practices

  • Beryl

I am so excited for this time with you today for a conversation about your work and everything that you do for the accounting profession. But before we dive in, I want to take a chance to let everyone know a little bit more about you.

Jenna Etienne is a CPA and certified diversity executive. After a 26 year career in public accounting, including owning her own firm for 17 years, she shifted to DEI work.

Today she is a consultant, speaker, and trainer working primarily with public accounting firms and companies and the financial services sector.

Chefs clients develop and implement DEI strategies and action plans, designs training programs and workshops and provides one-on-one coaching for executives and business leaders.

Her work is centered primarily on workplace culture, authenticity, and self-awareness, inclusivity, and leadership across organizations, and the importance of belonging.

Outside of work, she loves jigsaw puzzles, is an avid Arsenal fan, loves Formula One and recently started exploring her culinary skills.

She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband, two sons and Doug, their soon to be five year old American Bulldog.

Welcome Jina. I'm excited to have you here.

  • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

Thank you so much for having me. And I just want everyone to know that Doug is with me. So if you have any strange sounds it's the dog snoring.

  • Beryl

I love it. Doug might need to make an appearance if he wakes up at some point during the show. So I want to dive right in to DEI, and I actually think, I know what DEI is, I would love for you to just briefly define DEI on what it means.

And also, you've been doing a series on CPAacademy for quite a while. So love to know what we can expect from your DEI series this year.

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • So DEI in a minute is hard, but the letter stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and we have to add B belonging to that, And so, people might hear D, E, I, B, or any combination.

    People get little, you know, try to get real tiki with it.

    But that's what the work is.

    It's really about creating more diversity in the workforce, improving the culture to be more inclusive, so that people have a sense of belonging.

    And then, looking at equity in an organization.

    Are practices fair?

    Do people get the resources and support that they need, et cetera.

    Now, for the series, thank you for asking about that.

    The series is called D&I, One-on-One, it's every other Friday, it's been going on, this is my third year.

    It's structured to be a conversation. All we do is, well we, I invite a guest on, and we talk about something. It sounds, it sounds overly simplified, but D&I is nuanced. It's complex.

    If it has to do with our personal identities and what it feels like at work, and what organizations need to think about to create these spaces, then it relates to D&I.

    So just I've been grateful and lucky to have a series of guests. Some are willing to share their personal stories and their background and their identities of it.

    Subject matter experts come in and talk about legal ramifications or HR policy. And so, I don't know what we're going to talk about in 2023, it's going to come down to the guests. And I'm looking forward to whatever it's going to bring.

    • Beryl

  • Yeah, I've been lucky enough to moderate several of the sessions and are always a highlight of my work that I do.

    Here, I love sitting in those conversations and I jokingly said before we started recording. I'm like, this feels, if you want to feel for what sessions are like, they're kind of like this. Although the tables are turned it, I'm like, I get to interview you today, which is a fun treat for me.

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • I tried to describe them to people as, it's almost like a podcast in real time on camera. It's never scripted, and I love it because you get to meet wonderful people, and you get to hear stories, and Lord knows the attendees often have something interesting to share.

    • Beryl

  • We're recording this episode in February. February is Black History Month, and I'd love to get your take on how firms or companies could celebrate and honor diversity, not only this month, but all year long.

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • But, you know, that's such an important question. Thank you for asking it. Black History Month is important. There are a lot of history, heritage months. There are a lot of heritage days. There are a lot of awareness days. I mean, I think today might be National Corn Chip Day. I don't know. But it's important, because these days bring us back to remembering things that often just take them for granted, we see them every day.

    And Black History Month is particularly important, especially because of some of the racial strife that we've been experiencing, especially post George Floyd, the D&I work that I do gained a lot of prominence and awareness after that.

    Black History Month actually was only recognized back in 1976 by President Ford. And so we don't even have this long history of celebrating it.

    And so I think it's important for us to recognize that companies have an opportunity to raise that awareness. Organizations, companies, firms, can really think about looking at and using Black History Month as a way to support Black businesses.
    Recognize and honor their Black employees. Understand the importance of African American history as it relates to business traditions.
    As the saying goes, if you don't remember your history, you're bound to repeat it. And so what we want to make sure we're doing is remembering our history and then tying it into what we do as organizations. Now, what can organizations do to celebrate Black History Month? There's no lack of ideas.

    You can have an event that provides education or an event that brings people together as community and within their organization.

    You can make donations to an organization like the NAACP. There are organizations like Black Girls Who Code, and shameless plug, National Society of Black CPA's. I'm the chair. Organizations, you can make a scholarship to a group. There are, what was the one that I liked the other day, somebody sent me a link, two A, store of an artist who sold jewelry and clothing. African inspired jewelry and clothing, and I found some really beautiful things there. So cater your Black History Month event, with a restaurant owned, by someone who was black, black owned restaurant.

    So there's no lack of ideas. I mean, it's really, if you don't know what to do, and you're out there and you're listening, reach out to your employee networks and ask them, and I'm sure they can give you some ideas.

    • Beryl

  • 100%, and those are fabulous, easy ideas that our audience can take and run with. So, I appreciate you sharing those.

    And along a similar vein, we know, I specifically asked you about Black History Month since it is February, but this work goes well beyond that, and I'd love for you to share the tie into the accounting profession, specifically, why is this topic so important to accountants and CPA's?

    So, I went back before this, and looked at the SEPA Trends report. The most recent one was from 2021. And What is interesting is that when you look at the history of graduates, pursuing and completing accounting degrees, and then you look at the trend for people of color, it's flat.

    So, I don't remember how many years or in the report, I'm gonna go with something like 15 or 20 years. But the number is just the same, and it's roughly 59% white. Give or take a percentage point.

    And yet, if you look at the number of people hired into CPA firms, they're 65%, right.
    82% of partners in accounting firms are white.

    And when you look at the trend from the moment, somebody finishes college, all the way to the point where they become a partner, that number in terms of people of color, and particularly african americans, it's sort of this slope.

    That's not what we want. So it doesn't mean that we're not out there. We're graduating from college, we're pursuing the CPA designation were being hired into CPA firms.

    And while a lot of work is being done in that space, to create awareness about the accounting profession for people of color, to support them coming into colleges and universities, and while they study and to pursue the CPA exam, those are all critically important initiatives they've been going on.

    But what we fail to often do is organizations is think about, great, we've put an all this effort to hire in minorities, but we've not given any thought to what it's going to be like when they get here.

    And so the reason D&I efforts are important that organizations can focus on is to think about what it's going to be like when your employees get there.

    So you, when you start onboarding people, onboarding doesn't start the day I come in and start filling out my withholdings.

    Onboarding starts before I get there to start to anticipate what it's going to feel like working there and for my soon to be colleagues to be ready for me when I get there.

    So I mean, there's so much work I could go on and on, obviously, this is what I do for a living, but at a, in its most basic form, the reason D&I is important is if we want to change the movement of that needle.

    We've got to change what it feels like to work inside organizations, whether it's corporate America, CPA firms, hospitals, non-profits, Doesn't matter. Because often, we don't stay. It's not for lack of interests, because we'll just go off and start our own companies.

    The number of black, owned, and minority owned and women owned businesses is exponentially growing in this country. So the opportunities are there, the employees are there, the desire is there, but the culture is not.
    And that's what we need to think about.

    • Beryl
  • 100%.

    All right, so I want to switch gears, just slightly, and talking about mindfulness, because you have an upcoming webinar about mindfulness, which on the outside may not seem like it's in the realm of D&I.

    But I'm guessing there is a connection between those two things. So I'd love to know where you see that connection between mindfulness and diversity work.

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • So mindfulness is about maintaining your awareness of what's going on moment by moment, day to day.

    A lot of people think about it as meditation, but it's so much more broad than that.

    It's really about staying connected to the present, and listen, I had a 21 year career in public accounting, I had my share of tax seasons.

    Nobody got time to be present, I got tax returns, do clients calling, I'm hungry, I wanna get home to see my kid. Mindfulness helps center us back to why we're here, and what we're doing, and how we're reacting in this moment.

    And when it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are moments throughout the day.

    Particularly for those and underrepresented groups who might get triggered around something, Somebody might say something, Well, meaning, but, it has an unintended impact on me, and they might not know that I'm having this reaction. Mindfulness allows me to notice the reaction.

    Come back to my intention, so that when I move forward, I move forward the way I want to show up, and not in a way that's reactive. And that's also true for the person who might have said or done something to me, and realized it had an unintended impact. Lot of times, if you say something, and you find that, you've hurt someone or offended someone, we don't know how to react.

    We either over, apologize, or completely withdraw, or what have you.
    So everybody could stand to have a little bit more of a mindfulness practice so that they can stay connected with their intention.

    This is true whether you're responding to a client. And it's true when you are working day-to-day next to a QALY and you have an unintended impact on that colleague. You think about uncomfortable conversations. That's all about mindfulness.

    Navigating an uncomfortable conversation is all about staying present, despite your discomfort. So if there's, there's a, well, I should also say, that mindfulness has very well documented health benefits.

    So if you're not going to do it for D&I purposes, do it for yourself. And then when we feel better, we do better, we'd be better. So, and guess what? That will help improve workplace culture. So it sort of effects everything.

    • Beryl

  • It's all inter-connected, as someone that has a very robust mindful. My mindfulness practice, personally, I, 100%, agree that it's so much more than just meditation. And it is all inter-connected.

    So, I appreciate you sharing that perspective with everyone.

    As we're getting ready to wrap up this interview, I wanted to ask you something just for fun, because you said it a little bit ago. This is year three of you doing this series. You've done several webinars here at this point. Do you have the most interesting or favorite question that you've gotten from a webinar attendee? Can you go back into your catalog of webinars and find something?

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • You know, when I was thinking about that, I realized, no, like off the top of my head, nothing came to me. But what I did remember, is that attendees share personal stories. Now, not with everybody, I see it in the, in the background.

    They, they're very vulnerable, and they'll tell me, Oh, I had an experience just like that. People will say, I've never heard of this before. And a lot of people won't say that publicly, but to say it privately, and so it's really wonderful to see that people are connecting with it.

    Then, as I thought more about it, I do remember getting one comment, this had to do with the session I did last fall. Somebody said in their feedback that we were arguing, and they didn't like that.

    And I thought, well, wait. We're not arguing. We were having a robust discussion, and had different opinions about something. And I realized, for myself, I need to be thoughtful about how we sound.

    I also think I need to do a better job of set teeing this up as a conversation, where we won't always agree. But what we agree to do is be respectful, and just try to hear what the other person is saying.

    So I love that that somebody thought we were arguing, I was a bit taken aback, but you know I learned something from that as well.

    • Beryl

  • Yeah, and you're able to see those comments coming in. That's really special that you get to hold that space for people to be vulnerable And you're also really good at monitoring those questions on your webinars live and kind of turning the tide or to helping to shift the narrative a little bit more within your sessions as well.

    Well, is there anything else that you would like to share about things that you're excited about for this year, for your webinars, The CPA Academy before I wrap us up?

    • Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, CDE

  • There's so much happening so much going on.

  • I know for me personally, this is my year of self-development. I've spent so much time doing training with clients and doing consulting work that sometimes I don't feed myself. And so I made a commitment this year. I went out and looked at all of these different conferences, found a lot of conferences, and events I want to attend. I realized this isn't cheap.

    And by the way, I will be attending the forum for Workplace inclusion. So, if anyone is going to be there, come up and say hi and love to me.

    • Beryl

  • Well, we're going to be sure to leave a link to your work and your courses on CPAacademy for anyone who is interested in learning more about you and what you do, and your webinars here.

    I want to thank you again for spending a little bit of time with me during your busy schedule for this really important conversation.

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Welcome to Check-In, an online publication designed to make your learning journey simple and enjoyable! Here at, we understand the importance of staying up-to-date in the accounting profession. We created our Check-In to supplement your CPE requirements and stay ahead of the curve.

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Accountlogo checkin Check-In Check-In is an online publication designed to make your learning journey simple and enjoyable! Here at, we understand the importance of staying up-to-date in the accounting profession. We created our Check-In to supplement your CPE requirements and stay ahead of the curve. Check-In features discussions with top thought leaders in accounting and business, offering you invaluable insights on timely topics as well as timeless knowledge.