insight magazine

IN Play: Q&A With Stella Marie Santos, CPA

In a profession historically dominated by men and touted as a means to wealth, Stella Marie Santos, CPA, is doing things differently. By Sarah Herrmann | Summer 2018

StellaSantos-310In a profession historically dominated by men and touted as a means to wealth, Stella Marie Santos, CPA, is doing things differently – and for all the right reasons. Inspired to create a firm that breaks from the status quo, on Nov. 11, 2011 (11/11/11), Santos and her two sisters formed the CPA firm Adelfia LLC, a certified minority and women business enterprise focused on the pursuit of excellence and equality instead of profits. That’s not to say that professional accolades and financial rewards haven’t flown Adelfia’s way. In fact, Santos sits on the Illinois CPA Society’s Board of Directors and received the Society’s 2017 Lester H. McKeever Jr. Outstanding Leader in Advancing Diversity Award. But what’s truly unique about Adelfia is that it’s now managed by seven female minority partners and has 35 full-time, predominantly minority, employees. Below, Santos shares her insights and what her efforts mean for women and minorities in the CPA profession.

Q: Social and equality issues are once again in the limelight. What impact do you see this having on your firm and in the public accounting profession?

The increasing attention on social and equality issues provides our firm and staff a wider forum to share our own experiences, struggles, and responses to challenges as a minority/ethnic and women-owned firm. Initially, we sometimes experience hesitation from clients to listen or work with us, but as soon as we present the accounting and auditing issues with professional integrity, we see minds open and look beyond our race and gender. In the public accounting landscape, I feel it is much easier to overcome social and equality issues because technical skills and experience are the foundation for success.

That said, this attention also has created an awareness of the diversity of skills and perspectives we offer to the public. Sometimes, there is even a preference to work with us because organizations want to have the exposure and experience of working with a minority/women-owned firm.

Q: How would you describe your leadership philosophy and what has influenced it most?

“We value your needs” is the philosophy I have inspired at Adelfia. Valuing one’s needs means accepting someone for who they are, providing opportunities, and focusing on what they can offer. Be it with your employees, coworkers, clients, or the public, this philosophy guides you to be open-minded, give your best, and foster trust and cooperation.

This leadership philosophy has been largely influenced by my struggles to be recognized as a professional beyond the color of my skin, how I speak and write the English language, and my being a gay woman. I would not have attained my professional growth and advancement were it not for the clients, mentors, and colleagues who gave me a chance and provided me with an opportunity to learn and develop my skills – this is what I, and Adelfia, aim to give back.

Q: What advice do you have for minorities who want to make an impact in the profession?

Keep yourself updated with technical knowledge, conduct yourself with integrity, and be willing to give yourself and others a chance to add value to any situation. Have passion for what you do, because work is not work if you love what you do. Come to the table not feeling inferior, but empowered, because you have a lot to offer. Be proud of who you are as a minority. Enlighten others who have differing views by sharing your point of view in a respectful manner. You can have the greatest impact on the accounting profession by being engaged in adding to its diversity and richness.

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