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INCPAS Scholars: Where Are They Now?

Apr 13, 2021

We have shared several stories about our INCPAS Scholars throughout the years. Since many of them have now graduated college, are beginning to pass the CPA Exam, enter the profession and earn their license, we thought it would be fun to follow up with them and see how they are doing.

Nailah Owens-Johnson, CPA coming soon!

Deals Associate – CMAAS, PwC
INCPAS Scholar Indianapolis 2014–15
Attended Indiana University

Nailah Owens-JohnsonNailah passed the CPA Exam in September 2020 and is currently fulfilling the work experience requirement to receive her license. She works at PwC as a deals associate for their Capital Market Accounting Advisory Services (CMAAS) within the Deals Advisory group and will receive her license by the end of 2021. In the spring of 2019, she had returned from her study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain, and shared her experiences and what she had learned about the increasing need for sustainability accountants. Read more in the CPA IN Perspective magazine article “Making an Impact in the World Through Accounting.”

Nailah updated us on what sustainable accounting means to her today and how she’s living out her passions:

INCPAS: Congratulations on passing the CPA Exam! We’re so proud of you for making it another step closer to your career goals. The last time we talked, you wanted to connect your passion for community service with your accounting background and were interested in sustainability accounting. You said, “I want to help educate people on what accounting firms are doing for society and teach companies what else they can do for their communities.” Are you still interested in pursuing sustainability accounting in your career? If so, what are you doing to reach that goal? Have any of your priorities shifted?

Nailah: Thank you for the kind words! The CPA Exam was not like anything else I have done before, but after a lot of hard work and late nights I am so happy to have finished the next step in my journey. Due to COVID-19, many testing centers were closed and few seats were available throughout the summer, making it a challenge to find test dates. As the summer continued, the Black Lives Matter movement started to rise again along with the #MeToo movement for women and an increase in climate change activism due to the California wildfires. Sitting inside all day studying, I constantly kept wishing I could do more—attend more protests, educate those around me, call people in power. But I also had to remind myself my education would allow me to make a difference one day. This motivated me to work even harder. I wasn’t passing my exams just for me, but also for a community that was rooting for me. This experience was draining—physically, emotionally, and mentally. I can smile today because I know I gave it my all, and I’m so proud of myself.

My passion for using my business and accounting skills for good have not shifted in the slightest. If anything, I am even more determined now due to the pandemic. Fortunately, I have been blessed at PwC to maintain my job, but I am aware this was not the case for many individuals in the past year. For me, sustainability goes further than taking care of the environment. Sustainability means leaving something better than it was before you found it, including not only the world, but also the lives we touch and the communities we are a part of.

With my passion stronger than ever, CPA Exam complete and new job started, I am now studying to take the first part of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting (FSA) Credential. As mentioned on SASB’s website, the FSA credential teaches you “how sustainability information can be financially material” and “what you can do with that information.” While I have been personally interested in the topic of sustainability accounting, I am looking forward to gathering the factual knowledge needed to continue pursuing this work.

Since writing my last article for INCPAS, I’ve also made it my mission to practice what I preach. It’s easy to say we need to do more for one another and the environment, but we need to start making a difference in our actions. I can easily say I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to my environmental footprint. I think what matters most is being conscious that every choice you make has an impact. For over a year now, I have actively worked on becoming a flexitarian. As a flexitarian, I reduce my meat intake because I acknowledge the impact the meat industry has on the environment, so when I do choose to eat meat I am aware of the choice I am making and consider it a luxury experience. This is just one of the choices I must make each day as an individual, but once I start to think of every choice I am making—the places I shop, the products I buy, the waste I contribute—they start to add up. Now imagine if we all made more conscious decisions, and if businesses did too!
With my CPA background and FSA credential, I hope to be at the front of this [consumer] shift, teaching companies how they can still reach their financial bottom line while taking care of their people, communities and the environment.
Businesses are starting to see this shift in consumers. Many companies are now reporting their ESG (Environmental, Social and Governmental) impact and making changes in their day-to-day business to become carbon neutral, provide better working conditions and contribute to a better tomorrow. With my CPA background (once I finish the work experience requirement) and FSA credential (once I pass the Exam), I hope to be at the front of this shift, teaching companies how they can still reach their financial bottom line while taking care of their people, communities and the environment.

INCPAS: You’ve been working remotely in Florida for PwC during the pandemic. How are things going for you? What have you learned?

Nailah: As many of the people reading this know, working remotely comes with its pros and cons. Being part of a generation that grew up using technology, having a semester of virtual classes during the pandemic, and interning the previous summer for PwC have made my transition easier. Starting my new job remotely has mostly been a positive experience because I never had a taste of “normal” work in the office, so I have been able to make the most out of it.

Nailah and New Hire Happy Hour
I learned that if I wanted to build relationships with my coworkers and grow professionally, I had to work harder for it. I joined the Chicago green team, which focuses on sustainability efforts in the office. I participated as an associate coach to a winter intern, guiding him through his internship (he ultimately accepted a full-time offer). I planned virtual happy hours with new hires to get to know one another. I attended events to further my education in the many areas of work that Deals Advisory offers. I led an initiative during my team’s daily catch-up meetings to share a fact each day for Black History Month, so we could learn together. All of these decisions were choices I had to make. I had to decide what impact I wanted to make as a new hire who was working remotely.

The pandemic also confirmed that life doesn’t go on pause for anyone. I found that time meant something different for each of us. Some of us had more time on our hands, trying to figure out how to make the most out of that time. Others had to learn how to manage their time, working at home with a family to take care of. Too many people wished they had more time with the loved ones they lost. We had to figure out what we could do with the resources we had and make the most out of life with no guarantee with what the future had in store. How will you use your time? Learning this lesson at the beginning of my career has given me deeper empathy for those around me and a stronger desire to make the most out of each day.

INCPAS: You are involved with other organizations outside of work. Tell us more about your involvement with Outspoken.

Nailah: Outside of my job at PwC, I am working as the director of finance and outreach for Outspoken, a digital platform to amplify women’s voices. Not only does this group align with my values of sustainability, diversity and inclusion, as a woman in a heavily predominant male industry, but joining this organization has also given me a community where I can connect with women and uplift them as well.

There are many ways to be outspoken and share your passionate opinions. Outspoken is a community that strives to educate through informed content and elevate through shared stories and resources. We also hope to inspire women to be outspoken by highlighting women’s opinions and experiences loudly through our Feature Friday videos that highlight the women we admire. In addition, we sell apparel that is sustainable and 100 percent traceable so women can wear their values. Outspoken is made for all women; you are never alone.

INCPAS: Do you have any final thoughts on your journey to CPA?

Nailah: Without a doubt, I would not be where I am today without the support of INCPAS. Everyone’s journey is not the same: This is my journey, my beliefs and my aspirations. I wish you the best as you go on your journey. Please reach out to me at if you have any questions!

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