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Jina AWEB Summit

Authenticity Sells in Accounting


Leadership across the accounting profession is still predominantly male and white, so how can women, people of color, and other under-represented groups be themselves and still stand out?  The answer, says Jina Etienne, lies in elevating your company’s brand by using your voice and being authentic.

May 10th 2022
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What does it mean to be an ‘authentic’ accountant and how can this actually help your practice?

In her opening keynote address at AccountingWEB Live Summit, Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA dove right in to address the issue of accountants not truly embracing who they are as people, having to play down now they look or speak and simply not being “real.” In short, she believed accounting professionals need to embrace who they are and have that be their selling point.

“Accountant is what I do, it's not what I am. Your personality is the strongest part of your brand [as an accountant],” said Jina. “As accountants, we are like chefs in a restaurant. I'm serving tax returns to clients, they come back for the genuine experience.  In accounting, authenticity's about being your genuine self; how you show up every day, all day.”

In the interest of the profession truly putting out who they are, Jina mentioned that many people in a professional environment will often “code switch” in order to be more accepted where they work. This can be anything from how they dress and talk, to even hairstyles.

She explained that as accountants are of course people, we are much more than others see, referring to this as “the iceberg.” This, as the analogy implies, means what clients see when they meet you or experience work with you is not all that you are.

“So, when it comes to the iceberg of who someone is, I invite you to look under the waterline, most of it's under there,” said Jina. ”The longer and deeper you look the more you will discover, it's not about just what you see above the water. When you start digging into some of the barriers of ourselves, we run into fear...we all have a lot more in common than you think.”

To her point, many accountants look to their service and technology and not so much to who they are as people. Moreover, Jina urged accountants to showcase more of the work they do and how they treat their clients as their selling points, per se.

“Think about why would somebody hire you. They're not coming because the tax return is pretty, it's because of You,” said Jina.

She continued to note that being authentic is essential to firms who which to expand their advisory services, as trust becomes essential. When we talk about being able to build trust, she advised

1.) Listen to understand

2.) Respect the dignity of every person and every role

3.) Respect the little things

"Authenticity is not about showing up in your 'accounting costume.' In accounting, "authenticity's about being your genuine self. How you show up every day, all day,” she said. “You don't get to employ advisory services until you can get someone(clients) to trust you.”

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