Lorna Winston-Blanks, CPA, CGMA, is the first African American woman to serve as president of IMA’s Dallas Fort Worth Area Chapter. A financial controller for Currency Research and founder of Winston Blanks Advisory, Lorna has been a public accountant and company controller for nearly 20 years, with experience in nonprofit, manufacturing, healthcare, and financial service organizations. She recently sat down with Jimmie Smith, a member of the IMA Global Board of Directors and IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, to discuss her experiences in the profession and with IMA.
Jimmie Smith: You have done some great work for IMA’s Dallas Fort Worth Area Chapter the past several years. I am really pleased that you are serving as our 2016-2017 chapter president.
Lorna Winston-Blanks: Thanks. It’s been my pleasure. Serving the accounting profession through the chapter has provided invaluable experiences as a professional that you simply don’t learn on the job or glean from school. Being a volunteer leader with IMA provides a great opportunity to evaluate your qualifications and value outside of an environment restricted by office politics or bottom lines.
When I began attending chapter events in 2012, I was immediately attracted to the friendly, welcoming atmosphere and intrigued by the fact that the chapter leadership is composed completely of volunteers. After I attended events and was offered the opportunity to serve in the chapter leadership myself, the office of membership and marketing team lead seemed like the perfect role. It allowed me to get to know our membership and leadership simultaneously. I enjoyed stretching my people skills, which is a big requirement to be successful in the position. The next year I had a dual role of membership and marketing team lead and president-elect, which led to my current roles as chapter president and delegate to IMA’s Texas Council. I didn’t initially realize that I was the first female African American to occupy the position of chapter president for the Dallas Fort Worth Area Chapter. When I did, however, I thought, “What an extraordinary honor for me and wonderful evolution for our chapter!” I was happily challenged and motivated to keep the momentum of growth going.
Jimmie: Your professional experience is somewhat untraditional, as you have made several moves between management accounting and public accounting. What are some of the key lessons you learned along the way?
Lorna: As a perpetual student of life, I continuously seek knowledge. I found that public accounting is like an expressway for hands-on experience in the language of business, and it served me well when I moved from public accounting into industry. I saw the language of accounting and finance changing a few years ago with the recodification of GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles], and the coincidental circumstances of the economic downturn allowed me to reenter public accounting to get a bird’s-eye view of those changes across multiple industries.
Audit is my first love in accounting. In part, this is due to its analytical nature and focus on the big picture. Although public accounting can yield an excellent foundation for any accounting career, it’s often a high-pressure environment that requires an enormous level of endurance for most. I try to make each moment count. Time is a precious resource. I take what I need from each experience and carry it with me to assist in my grand adventure in the world of accounting and finance. I found that the ability to piece together and review a situation from my audit background gave me an excellent basis for strategic analysis and forecasting, which is where I most like to be positioned in an organization.
Those experiences have given me valuable skills and capabilities, but the lessons I value most are the ones that can be applied in almost any situation. Among them are the ability to allow for patience even when it seems that it has no place, the importance of details that support the overall substance in the form, and the understanding that kindness is a strength often misinterpreted but necessary all the same.
Jimmie: What are some challenges you have encountered in your career, and how have you overcome them?
Lorna: There have been many challenges. I overcome them by facing them head-on. My Christian faith also keeps me confident.
When other people’s short-sightedness doesn’t allow them to see past the brown hues of my skin to the humanity in me, I feel both sorrow and encouragement. I feel encouraged to persevere and overcome any prejudices that I encounter because of my race. I feel sorrow that this particular basis of division is still too prevalent in a society that prides itself in being a melting pot of free-thinking individuals.
Being a woman in a profession dominated by masculinity represents a double serving of difficulty for me. I’ve witnessed much more inclusion in this area. Yet the issue hasn’t been resolved entirely. Equality of status and equivalence in treatment are still lacking for many women in accounting and finance. Men and women are different in many ways that matter, but gender differences shouldn’t be relevant when it comes to compensation and reward for intellectual achievement, which is converted to positive equity in an organization.
Overcoming the barriers presented by historical inequality requires a desire for continual improvement and willingness to take the necessary steps to get to the other side of tradition. My goal is to be the best human being that I can be. That is what I will do as a minority female professional. I hope others will embrace the human view—it’s much more beneficial for everyone when we see each other that way.
Jimmie: The primary objective for IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee is to determine ways to develop a diverse leadership pipeline for senior volunteer leadership positions. What can IMA do to be successful in this effort?
Lorna: I find the “Inclusion” part of the committee’s name the most intriguing because it implies action. Accounting and finance professionals hold positions of trust, and trust is based on relationships. When the profession has a balanced relationship between its representatives and the constituents it serves, the relationship improves and a higher level of synergy is created. We are stronger together. Therefore, a complete story is always the best basis.
I think IMA can be successful in this area by actively pursuing inclusion of different groups that aren’t similar to its traditional homogeneous appearance. I’m not advocating the exclusion of one group in order to include another, but I do think balance should be actively pursued—a balance that is appropriately reflective of the ethos. Where cultural imbalance is implied or gaps are identified, it’s important to address them with specific and harmonizing action. Small decisions can lead to big change. Remaining receptive to change and looking beyond the surface for substance will prove key to the diversity issues facing many of our cultures today.
It isn’t okay to surround yourself only with people who look like you, live like you, or think like you. This creates gaps in the story, and you may not realize what you’ve missed until it’s too late. The missing portion may turn out to be the most impactful of them all.