CPA INSIDER

Mentors pave career pathways

An award-winning CPA explains how mentorship has played an important role in her career.
By Teri Saylor

Ebonie Jackson, CPA/CITP, CGMA is fervent in her pursuit of a meaningful career. She credits a series of mentors for her success.

"Mentorship has been so important in my career, and I would not be where I am today without all my mentors," she said.

As director of administrative services at Lucas County Children Services in Toledo, Ohio, Jackson has landed in an agency that allows her to work in a sector she loves. "I am passionate about serving families," she said.

Jackson recently spearheaded a technology makeover that enabled her agency to operate more efficiently. She dismantled administrative processes that had been in place for 40 years and integrated a technology-driven document management system, complete with training to help administrative employees adapt to the changes.

These efforts earned Jackson the 2020 Outstanding CPA in Government Impact Award on the local level.

She acknowledges the mentors who have provided advice, encouragement, and a shoulder to lean on as she made her way through college at Florida A&M University and a career that started in accounting at KPMG. She worked in the corporate world with Owens Corning before arriving in local government, starting with a two-year stint leading the finance department at the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority in Toledo before taking her current job in 2017.

"I think mentorship has become an integral part of me and my career," she said, and shared lessons on the value of mentorship she has learned along the way.

Mentors may appear in all walks of life. While Jackson has benefited from the steady guidance of bosses, teachers, and professional acquaintances throughout her career, she said her most important mentor was her mother, who introduced her to the accounting profession and influenced her work ethic.

As a teenager, Jackson assisted with bookkeeping for her mother, Willie Hughey, a career finance officer who is now vice president of finance and accounting at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Through her mother, Jackson learned the value of charting a career path. Today, Jackson still draws parallels to her mother's career. "I worked with university clients at KPMG, so we literally shared the same profession," she said.

Informal mentors can lead by example. As a young accounting professional, Jackson has developed leadership skills by emulating leaders she admires. She looks up to Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, past chairman of the AICPA.

"I notice how she conducts herself and speaks her opinions in a professional and convincing manner," Jackson said. She advises other young CPAs to become active in professional organizations, attend business and social functions, and meet other professionals they look up to.

Mentoring goes both ways. Jackson's appreciation for her mentors runs deep, and she pays it forward by offering mentorship to other accounting professionals and students. She strives to increase diversity in the accounting profession and often reaches out to support African American accounting students and young CPAs.

"If you want to be a mentor, your state CPA society is a good place to start," Jackson said. Other places to seek professionals who need mentors is your own workplace.

"Human resources or firm managers often have programs that will match seasoned CPAs with entry-level employees," she said.

Mentorships should feel natural. Look for a mentor or mentee with whom you can create genuine rapport, Jackson said. Your relationship should not feel forced. If you are seeking a mentor, seek out someone with skills and intangible qualities you admire, like leadership, patience, and resilience.

If you are seeking a mentee, look for someone with raw talent who may be receptive to your guidance. "Your mentor or mentee doesn't have to be someone exactly like you, but it helps if you find someone you feel connected to," Jackson added.

Effective mentors don't force solutions. The best mentors will refrain from problem-solving, and instead lend a listening ear, Jackson said. They will give suggestions and options for paths forward or offer different perspectives on problems.  

If you are a mentor, don't assume a strategy that would work for you would also work for the person you are mentoring.

"A good mentor serves as a sounding board and empowers their mentee to solve their own problems and chart their own paths forward," she said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a JofA senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.

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