[IMGCAP(1)] Malik, a first-year African-American associate assignedto a major accounting firm’s California office, frets that he has blownhis one chance to make a good first impression:

“In myculture we were raised to avoid looking elders in the eye. But at workthey thought I was being dishonest because I didn’t make eye contact.”

Angelique,a Caribbean-born first-year at another major accounting firm in NewYork, wonders how to respond when managers ask her to make copies, andwhen her work constantly comes back for revisions. Is it this way foreveryone, or just new employees? Or is she experiencing prejudice?

Inan innovative program supported by the Big Four and other majoraccounting organizations, a select group of African-Americanfirst-years gather each year to explore such sensitive issues, and toget guidance from the profession's leaders on how to develop the “soft”job skills like communication and networking that are so critical tosuccess.

Helping more African Americans achieve success inaccounting is so central to this annual program, created and run byHoward University School of Business Center for Accounting Education(CAE), that it is named “We’re About Success.” The program is a keyelement of CAE’s comprehensive partnership with the profession toadvance African Americans in accounting, at all levels from collegestudent to candidates for senior management.

“This programhas grown significantly since its inception and is strongly endorsed bythe leading accounting firms in the nation,” said Howard UniversitySchool of Business Dean Barron H. Harvey, who is also a CPA.

[IMGCAP(2)]“Every accounting firm wants its young African American associates tosucceed and stay,” says CAE director Frank K. Ross, retired head ofKPMG’s Washington, D.C. office. “These young people have the technicalskills to achieve, but still face some unique challenges. This programprovides them the opportunity to collectively discuss these challenges,as well as the choices and issues they may encounter along the way. Inaddition they, like so many other young accountants, need encouragementto take and pass the CPA exam early in their professional career.”

Nowfive years old, “We’re About Success” filled about 100 first-yearprofessionals from across the nation with four days of invaluableinformation and advice at its 2009 program last month in suburbanWashington D.C. Educators and practitioners teamed up to deliver a richcurriculum designed to enhance the participants’ non-technical skillssets, and to drive home the importance of facing the CPA Exam early intheir careers. With sessions like “Getting off to the Right Start,”“Working In Teams” and “Building Support & Alliances,” the youngaccountants heard industry veterans share lessons learned over alifetime. They also received a distilled CPA exam preview and prepsession to lower their anxiety levels by familiarizing them with thetest’s features.

Judging by participant response, and thetakeaways they plan to implement upon returning to work, the program isalready changing the paths of lives and careers.

“Before, Iviewed my career as one day at a time,” said first-year audit associateShevonne Ferguson, of Deloitte’s Rochester office. “The message of mybeing selected for this program was your firm would not have investedin sending you here if they did not see value. They believe in me, sowhy not believe in them?”

“You are responsible for your owncareer, and this program gives you the tools,” added Jerome Barnes, anassociate for Ernst & Young in Detroit.

After fourdays of enrichment, each student seemed ready to leave with a differenttakeaway from the multitude of strategies and tips offered. Somelearned for the first time that they needed to bone up on their socialskills, others that they were erring by deferring taking the exam.

“Ihad identified a couple of possible mentors but I hadn’t approachedthem,” said Jamelle Nelson, of KPMG’s Los Angeles office. “Now I’mgoing to reach out to them.”

For Orlando Miller ofPricewaterhouseCoopers’ McLean, Va. office, it was “a step back to lookat myself, and take in people’s perception of me. Do they see me as theperson who does the hard work? You think you are doing a good job, butask your manager how you are doing.”

Not all participantscome from the Big Four. Several participants come from such other firmsas Grant Thornton and such large minority-owned firms as Williams,Adley & Co.

The National Association of BlackAccountants Division of Firms is also a major stakeholder in “We’reAbout Success.” NABA president Walter Smith, who delivered a keynotespeech to the group, said, “’We’re About Success’ arms our professionalmembers with tools that are very hard to come by.”

As theprofession’s concern with maintaining a diverse work force continues,the tools provided at “We’re About Success” can help African-Americansstay the course and advance to partner and beyond.

Thesixth annual ‘We’re About Success!’ program will be held June 27 toJuly 1, 2010 in Chantilly, Va., and all accounting firms are eligibleto register first-year African-American students.

To get more information about this program, contact CAE at 202-806-1643.

NewYork-based writer Ned Steele has worked with a number of diversityinitiative partnerships between business and higher education includingThe PhD Project and Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, and onrecruiting and human resources initiatives for KPMG.