Building a Professional Network as a Platform for Empowerment

 

Networking is an essential part of an individual’s professional development. A professional network is a great resource for professionals to connect, collaborate and share their knowledge with each other. That was Jenny Okonkwo’s vision in founding the Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN). She tells us how she went about it.

My journey began when I landed in Canada during 2006, a time of economic prosperity. As a newcomer, I confronted a number of challenges, which included employer recognition of overseas credentials and obstacles in maintaining their professional standing. Like many of my peers, I studied specialized courses in Canadian colleges to enhance my accounting and finance knowledge. Fortunately, I was able to continue working in my profession in my new home.

For altruistic reasons, I wanted to give back and became involved into a number of skills-based volunteering projects. I also sensed an opportunity for empowering other newcomers. In 2016, I attended a panel discussion at the Canada International Black Women Event (CIBWE). It was made up of members of the Black Female Lawyers Network. During this session, they emphasized the importance and benefits of community based networking within their chosen profession.

As I was listening, I realized that despite working in the accounting profession in Canada for almost 10 years and having a large online professional network, there was no existing network for black female accountants to physically connect with each other on a larger scale. It was possible that such a network could be brought into existence through the coordinated volunteering efforts of the members themselves.

It was a “lightbulb” moment for me because I saw a networking gap and a need for a network for black female finance and accounting professionals to connect. Inspired by the CIBWE session, I decided to start a professional network for black female professionals in my field. In the summer of 2016, I used my online networking skills to attract a small group and together, we brainstormed the vision, mission and objectives for the network. By October 2016, the idea became a reality when the Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN) was born.

BFAN is a diverse network of members which includes designated, non-designated, internationally trained female finance and accounting professionals, students, and undergraduates of Black African and Caribbean heritage, from one or both of their parents. Since its launch, BFAN has hosted roundtable discussions, networking, tax update sessions, newsletters, information and other resources to its members. In its short existence, members are already helping each other through the sharing of job postings, volunteering opportunities, and the formation of CPA Study groups – seen by many as a key component of professional exam readiness and success.

BFAN joined TRIEC’s Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) program in January 2017. As a new network, we will benefit enormously from connecting with and learning from more experienced PINs association and network leaders through the sharing of their information, knowledge and insights.

The first step in empowerment is being aware of each other’s existence. That forms the basis to start a conversation and engage in meaningful dialogue, as a platform for helping each other.

Jenny Okonkwo, MBA FCMA (UK) CGMA FP&A CPA, CMA, is a recipient of the Diversity Advancement Network Role Model Award. She is an Ambassador of the Womens Leadership Council, CPA Canada, FP&A Certification Development Committee Member – Association for Financial Professionals. She is a published writer (CPA Ontario, Association for Financial Professionals). Jenny also contributes business articles on a regular basis to the Toronto Manager (Canadian Institute of Management) Publication.

To learn more about PINs and to join a professional network, click here.