Embracing Change Provides Keys to Transformation—and Keeps You Ahead of the Game
One popular CPA consultant describes her career path— which didn’t go as she had planned, but always landed her where she felt she should be—and how she hopes to help organizations move the needle on DEI initiatives.
Jina Etienne, CPA, considers herself an “accidental accountant,” comparing her career path to a popular event on a classic game show.
“Remember the game Plinko on the Price of Right?” Etienne told Cecilia Leung, CPA, in the book “Dear Accountant.” “You drop the chip in the top and it bounces randomly down to a slot at the bottom. Each slot has a different prize, and you don’t know which box it might end up in, or what path it’ll take to get there. That is how I feel about my career journey.”
Growing up in Columbia, Maryland, Etienne aspired to be a musician and even formed a band with her two brothers, Jon and Keith. “Jon plays guitar. Keith and I sing,” she explained. “We never got very far, but we did get a gig singing at the [Columbia Festival of the Arts].”
Etienne’s music adoration fueled her love for artists like Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Prince, but she also admired teachers, who “were the smartest people I knew,” she said. Of course, Etienne also looked up to Martin Luther King, Jr., “whose vision for the world matched mine and his willingness to fight for what he believed in was inspiring, to say the least.”
When she was in the 6th grade, Etienne decided she wanted to be an attorney, a decision she said was reinforced by an ex-boyfriend’s mother. “She didn’t know it, but she was a strong role model,” Etienne said. “She was an attorney, a great mother and all around badass.”
Etienne later learned her university didn’t offer pre-law degrees, so she chose to get a business degree. However, Etienne struggled in a few of her courses and, after putting it off as long as she could, she finally took a required accounting course. “The class wasn’t as boring as I expected or as hard as everyone described,” Etienne said. “I was surprised when I got an A. When I went to talk to my professor afterward, I asked if accounting classes were [all] this easy. He laughed, said no, and said it was one of the subjects where you ‘either get it or you don’t.’ Apparently, I got it.”
Etienne changed her major and planned to be a JD/CPA. Then, after taking a tax class, she grew more excited. “Tax felt like a direct connection between the law and accounting. I was hooked,” she said. Once she passed the CPA exam, Etienne earned a graduate degree in taxation.
Five years out of college, Etienne started her own firm, and then in 2011 sold it to join the AICPA team. Following a five-year stint at the AICPA, Etienne became the president and CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA), a job change she says marked her shift into diversity & inclusion (D&I). “The more I talked about the challenges for minorities, particularly African Americans, it felt like work that I needed to do,” Etienne said.
These days, Etienne is the founder and principal consultant of her own company, Etienne Consulting, where she can continue helping organizations with DE&I initiatives, a critical mission for most companies. “I believe companies meant well, but they weren’t investing in the work in meaningful ways,” Etienne explained. “Sure, D&I is important, but it was never urgent. And it certainly wasn’t a priority in terms of the budget. Too often, organizations tapped employees from underrepresented groups to lead D&I efforts, but that puts the burden on minorities to convince everyone in the majority that D&I matters, all while trying to find ways to support their counterparts from those same underrepresented groups with resources, programs, mentoring and development opportunities – oh, and without any extra pay. Today, more companies recognize the importance of bringing in someone with DEI expertise to help. So, that is definitely progress!”
Etienne, who is an Inspiration Operative for the Center for Accounting Transformation, leads a “D&I Jump Start – How to Build a D&I Action Plan” webinar explaining it’s her personal background that makes her consulting practice different from others. “I focus on making the content relatable and actionable, particularly for small to medium sized firms,” she said. “My entire professional career is in public accounting, so I bring real-world, first-hand experience to my courses, both as a minority and as a business owner.”
“I believe we have good intentions when it comes to DEI but don’t always know what to do or how to do it,” Etienne added. “As a profession, we are better with numbers than we are with people. We are also better identifying solutions for serving clients than we are at recognizing similar opportunities for growth and improvement within our own firms. I’d like to help change that, and help firms understand how much diversity, when coupled with truly inclusive cultures, can be a real game changer.”
And, as she’s established, Etienne knows a lot about game changers—and even more about game plans.
“If my story teaches you anything, it’s this: don’t stress if you don’t know where you’re going…yet,” Etienne said. “Let your skills and passions guide you along the way, like those bounces left and right on the Plinko board. And keep an open mind. Things don’t often turn out the way you expect but, in my experience, they usually end up where you were meant to be. Embrace the uncertainty of your future and be excited about the endless possibilities.”
“Just like Plinko, I bounced left, then right, then left again, and ended up winning the big prize – an amazing career!”
Meet Jina Etienne, CPA, and then make plans to join her to turn your DEI plan into actionable goals.