Latasha Brown, Senior Manager, Assurance, at PwC says she is cautious about speaking for all women in accounting when it comes to the challenges associated with gender or race. “But,” she continued, “I can certainly speak for myself, and the experiences of my close associates and colleagues. And I would say one of the main barriers or hurdles is holding onto the belief that it’s enough to just show up and be good.”
“It really is important to develop meaningful relationships with your clients, advocates and sponsors. I still find that some of our male counterparts tend do a better job of selling themselves, and putting themselves out there,” she explained.
“In my experience the challenge for women is not to put those limitations on yourself, by staying inside your comfort zone.” She added, “I have learned that opportunities come to those who step outside that comfort zone.”
Career at PwC
Brown, who just celebrated her 15th anniversary with PwC, described her career as “a bit unorthodox.” She continued, “But at the same time, it’s been rewarding both personally and professionally.”
She attended Florida State University, where she obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Accounting. Brown joined PwC’s Jacksonville office right after graduating — just prior to the merger of Pricewaterhouse and Coopers and Lybrand. “It was an exciting time for me,” Brown recalls, “I was eager and ready to learn; during my time in Jacksonville, I was offered the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of industries, including insurance, and develop my skills as an auditor.”
“My flexibility, particularly my willingness to travel and take on new assignments, especially benefited me during my time with PwC’s Jacksonville office.”
After five years of client service, Brown was asked to join PwC’s National Office in Florham Park, New Jersey. It was the summer of 2004 and the accounting profession was gearing up for the first round of ‘SOX’ audits; Brown was one of the first managers to join a group of specialists in PwC’s National Office focused on developing PwC’s audit methodology and thought leadership around the execution internal controls audits. “They said they were looking for promising managers for two year tours of duty, she recalls, “I had such a rewarding experience that I stayed for four!” Over the course of the first two years with the National Office, Brown contributed to training over 20,000 PwC assurance professionals on the execution of internal controls audits; and, in doing so Brown began to develop a passion for learning and education.
During the last two years of her tour, Brown’s focused shifted to advising engagement teams in the financial services industry on complex accounting issues including those related to accounting for derivatives. When Brown finished her tour, she joined the financial services assurance practice in PwC’s New York office. “I thought about returning home of Florida to be closer to my family and friends, but ultimately decided, I needed to stretch myself and decided to take on a new role would provide me with ample opportunities to round out my leadership skills” she explained.
But, she said, shortly after beginning the assignment, “I started to have doubts as to whether the role was the right fit. I started to feel a bit antsy,” she explained. “My new roles and responsibilities were more predictable and there was less of a focus on the complex accounting issues and problem solving I thrived off of and had become accustomed to during my tenure in the National Office.”
Brown reached out to a senior partner about it, and received some words of wisdom: “Just wait, and something will happen.” It was the summer of 2008 before the credit crisis.
She continued, “And you know, it’s true what they say: be careful what you wish for because you just may get it.” Soon after, Brown assumed a leading role in supporting her teams in the assessment of a variety of accounting and reporting matters stemming from the crisis. “It was a stressful but very rewarding time of my career. I not only strengthened my technical skills and developed professional relationships but I also formed friendships that will last a lifetime.”
After two years, with the goal of gaining greater exposure within her practice, Brown took on the role of senior manager on two insurance engagements here in New York. In addition to her role on these engagements, Brown also assumed a significant role supporting PwC’s Learning and Education and Quality Initiatives.
“I’m very passionate about this. When I think about what my purpose is, it has always come back to service, and that means not only providing objective points of view and perspectives to my clients but it also means supporting and teaching those coming behind me.” She added, “And during my time with PwC I have come to realize that I am a student as well — constantly learning from my clients, partners, and peers. I learn something new each day.”
Looking back, Brown says, there are a lot of lessons that would have been helpful had she learned them earlier. But, she is glad to have experienced them nonetheless. “If I had known them up front, I wouldn’t have gone through the experience. I’m glad I had stumbling points and learned a lesson.”
One of the key lessons Brown learned was how to establish boundaries. “I have always prided myself in results and being able to deliver under challenging circumstances, but, she noted, “there is a limit. Over the course of my career, I have had to develop the ability to say no and more importantly leverage my teams, partners, and peers when needed.”
She continued, “And we can’t forget the importance of the ‘soft stuff.’ Being a solid auditor isn’t enough. I knew that intellectually starting my career, but if I am honest with myself, I have to say that I did not fully embrace the concept early in my career.”
Not to undercut the importance of the “hard stuff,” she stressed, “You can’t go anywhere without being technically sound and solidly credentialed, but developing relationships and making contacts – the soft stuff – I wish I had fully embraced those behaviors earlier in my career. And when I reflect on it, relationship building and strengthening ties between my clients and teams and myself, really is one of the most fulfilling aspect of my career!”
Brown says we continue to learn these lessons throughout our careers. In fact, the past year has brought her a new sense of pride – but it hasn’t been easy. “This past year has been particularly challenging for me,” she said. “My sister and I lost our mother unexpectedly in August and it has shocked our family.” Brown says that with support from her PwC family and friends, she has been able to cope during this very difficult time. “The fact that I’m standing and encouraged makes me proud at this moment, that, at the end of the day, I can look back and see the value I provide to my teams and the clients we serve.”
Learning and Development
Part of Brown’s interest in learning and development stems from her dedication to continually enhance the professional development of PwC’s people.
“Currently, there is a tremendous focus within our profession on quality. Through my focus on learning and development, I directly support PwC’s initiatives to continually improve audit quality. I take this responsibility seriously and with enthusiasm. Exciting things are happening in terms of how PwC delivers training to our professionals. These include new technology and the continued focused on simulation-based training. PwC’s commitment to these efforts is solid. I’m proud to be a dedicated instructor for PwC. In my role, I contributed approximately 500 hours this past year to supporting the development of our staff.”
Advice for Professional Women
Brown urged women to be mindful of their health. “Take care of yourself. You can’t serve your clients and you can’t support your teams at your highest level if you’re not healthy. So take care of yourself,” she explained. She also advised women to be positive. “Particularly now – during this very busy time of year – stay encouraged. Stay focused on the end game and your goals.”
“Of course that’s easier said than done!” she said with a laugh.
Brown is a big supporter of PwC’s Diversity Circles. She is a frequent panelist and contributor of content for Circle gatherings. She is also a member of the New York metro insurance practice diversity committee and the former diversity committee chair. Brown is a member of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and former Chair of NABA’s Southern Region Student Conference Planning Committee.
Brown also contributes her time to organizations which support the advancement of women. She supports Streetwise Partners, a not-for-profit organization that helps individuals round out their workplace skills as they enter the professional workforce or begin the search for more fulfilling career opportunities; she also supports the Young Women’s Leadership Network and is active in promoting financial literacy in support of PwC’s Earn Your Future Program.
In Her Personal Time
In her spare time, Brown enjoys reading and spending time with her friends. “I stay connected with my sisters, a group comprised of long-time friends, current and former colleagues and clients, through our Dinner Club,” a group Brown organized four years ago. “The rules of the Club are simple,” she said. “Monthly, we get together at someone’s house for a homemade meal with the goal of reconnecting and recharging our relationships.”
Brown regularly reaps benefits that come with living just minutes from Manhattan — such as access to Broadway musicals and museums. She also enjoys traveling and would welcome a return trip to Japan in the near future.