International Women’s Day Interview with Uso Sayers
Uso Sayers, Managing Director of JL’s Business Advisory Services (BAS) practice, has a passion for the public accounting profession that is the motivating force behind her desire to give back to the profession through her involvement on the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) board.
I am Stephanie Brassard, Manager in the audit practice. Uso was kind enough to sit down with me (virtually, of course!) to discuss her experience with NABA and provide advice for women aspiring to leadership positions.
Q: How did you first get involved with the National Association of Black Accountants?
“I got involved with NABA based on a grad school project to market yourself and one of the different assignments to do as part of the project was to join two school organizations.
I visited the finance club and one other club and I didn’t feel welcome so I looked for other organizations. I was walking down the hall when I found NABA and as I walked in, they welcomed me. That day, two folks who graduated the year before and went to work with Chase were talking about their experiences and how NABA helped them as professionals. I was immediately drawn so I started going to all the meetings.
At my school, we had a listserv so you would get emails from the listserv and I responded to every single email that came to me. Eventually, the person who managed the listserv reached out asking if I’d like to be involved and said that they had elections coming up. I became Director of Community Service and Membership and I’ve been actively involved since then.
The thing that really attracted me to NABA was the friendliness of the members and the professional development. I was an international student so there were a lot of things I didn’t know about working in Corporate America.
Being actively involved in NABA helped me hone my presentation skills, just by interacting and being friendly to everybody. NABA hosted etiquette lunches where we were taught to eat with a knife and fork, which was something I didn’t do on a regular basis. It was nice to learn traditional place settings and how to use the various utensils when you’re sitting at the table and where to sit your glass – things that are pretty basic for some that weren’t basic for me.
Being able to make an impact in the life of others has kept me active in the organization.”
Q: What has been a highlight of your involvement with this organization?
“I think my first highlight as a student member was being invited to serve as the emcee for one of the student conferences, which had between 300 and 400 attendees. I had the opportunity to stand in front of professionals and students and just ad-lib, you know, introduce speakers, talk about myself and share encouraging tips. The speaker was a very successful CPA and I got to meet him by way of having to introduce him.
As a student, it was really inspiring because when you go to conferences, you see people up there but you never really see yourself up there. Being able to do that as a student made me want to be more actively involved and to continue to provide that opportunity for other students.
It was through NABA that I got introduced to public accounting. I went to a large CPA firm for my first few years as a professional and being able to meet partners in my first year, even as an intern, and learn from them was helpful. I remember how I felt when I had the opportunity to meet more experienced members and so I continue to do that for others.”
Q: Everyone has a lot on their plates; do you have any tools or tips that have supported your success and the pursuit of your goals?
“Because I love volunteering and I love what I do, especially with NABA, it really doesn’t feel like an additional responsibility. I remember a point in time when people said ‘Maybe you need to spend less time in NABA so that you can focus on your career’ so I took a year off and it didn’t feel right.
I’ve learned to organize my calendar so if I have a NABA event or meeting, I incorporate it into my calendar. There are days that I need to start work earlier or work a little later but I always make sure that I meet my commitments because when I meet my commitments, people don’t feel like I’m prioritizing something over my work.
I volunteer with multiple organizations in addition to NABA. I’m on the board of The Academy for Creating Excellence, which is a potential charter school in Atlanta, and an organization called Morning Star Urban Development, which works to help people transition from being renters to homeowners. I also serve on the vestry for our church and I’m on the PTA for my kids’ school.
The thing that I’ve found is that volunteering is my passion. As I mentioned earlier, when I stopped being involved, it actually impacted my work because I no longer had that passion that was driving me to finish my work and move on to the next thing.
I also do a lot of coaching and mentoring college students and young professionals, usually later in the day. I try to schedule everything, even my weekend commitments, because it helps me to plan out how I’m going to break up my time.
Being a parent has made it a little trickier but even the commitments I have for my family, I put on my calendar. Quite frankly, if it’s not on my calendar, it’s probably not happening. Organizing and putting things on my calendar has been my tool to succeed.”
Q: Are there any upcoming events you’d like to share that your organization is hosting?
“This year, NABA is hosting the 2021 National Convention from June 23-26, 2021 and the National Student Conference from August 12-13, 2021.”
Q: You’re a leader here at Johnson Lambert, within the BAS group and the firm. What advice do you have for women aspiring to become leaders in their own companies and industries?
“I feel as a woman, especially, depending on your circumstance, if you have an elderly family member or you have children or a spouse, there’s a burden that sometimes your male counterparts don’t bring with them to the workforce.
You’re always thinking of things that need to be done, right? You’re thinking about all the things happening in your life and you’re also trying to be the best boss and the best worker you can be. You’re also trying to deal with the stereotypes around not being too emotional at work. So if you’re overburdened or overwhelmed, you may be carrying that as well.
My advice would be to really understand what it is that makes you tick, what you’re passionate about and what really causes you emotional heartburn, for the want of a better term and strive to focus on the items you are passionate about as your drivers.
Find your relaxing thing. For me, my relaxation is the spa and the beach so over the years, I’ve prioritized that time for myself. For some women, their thing is working out, meditating or maybe a combination of things. You have to find that thing that helps you to be sharp, whatever it is that helps you to renew and refresh, so that you can continue to do your work without being overwhelmed and feeling overburdened.
As a leader I try to be flexible with myself, with my coworkers and my team. Flexible in when I do work versus taking a break, and flexible in letting others work when and where it works for them (within boundaries of course).
I also try to keep up with what’s happening in my industry and area of expertise so I can be sharp. We have different aspects of consulting at JL so not only do you have to learn your client’s industry but you have to learn about emerging technologies, issues and risks. I try to keep up as much as I can and there’s probably a lot more that I could do.
One thing I tell myself is that if I can commit to doing my best, then I don’t worry about what I can’t do. If I put my all in and do as much as I can, I don’t worry about what I couldn’t do. I keep a list of things that I want to do but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve something that I was trying to do because sometimes, I think we’re so worried about not doing everything that we don’t do anything.”
I appreciate Uso taking the time to candidly answer my questions.
I’m inspired by how community involvement motivates Uso to show up as her best self in both her personal life and her career and excelling in one doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other. Our goal should always be to do our best, be kind to ourselves and others and in doing so, we can create positive change in ourselves, our teams and our communities.