Moss Adams Voices

Beni Olaleye: Black Resistance

Get to know Beni Olaleye in this year’s celebration of Black History Month as he discusses Black Resistance and how he exemplifies it in his own way.

Beni Olaleye

Beni Olaleye, transaction services manager, immigrated from Nigeria for college. The low representation of Black professionals inspires him to try to pave the way for other Black accountants find their place in the industry. Now the leader of the Central chapter of the Black business resource group (BRG), Beni is passionate about the retention and advancement of Black professionals at Moss Adams. He talks about this year’s Black History Month theme by connecting the celebration to his own resilience.

This year’s theme for Black History Month is Black Resistance. Can you speak to how this theme resonates with you?

Black History Month gives us the chance to celebrate, recognize, and commemorate individuals, groups, and institutions that have fought and sacrificed for our journey towards equality.

There’s a Yoruba saying where I’m from—Ẹni máa jẹ oyin inú àpáta, kìí wo ẹnu àáke. It translates to “Whoever wants to extract and eat the honey embedded in a rock’s cavity won't fret about the axe.” For me, Black Resistance means chipping away at the rock because the goal is more important than the condition of the axe we’re using. It means resilience through the many challenges facing us, not just as Black accountants but Black Americans. The destination is equality; for me, that goal is more important than the severity of the challenges on the way.

Further, I may be an immigrant but I’m Black before I’m seen as anything else. For instance, a bad cop won’t stop to consider whether I’m American or African, and that’s why I see Black Resistance as something I can contribute to.

Beni Olaleye

Have your experiences related to this year’s theme of Black Resistance?

I’m a Nigerian immigrant who moved to the United States for college and went into an accounting industry where only 2% of CPAs are black. Being who I am in this industry sometimes feels like Black resistance.

I didn’t see a lot of Black peers in my accounting classes, so I often felt like an outcast. My college experience reflected the reality of the industry. The higher up you get in your career, the lower the representation is for Black professionals. Seeing individuals like Rob McGee and Labi Rabiu at Moss Adams work their way up is encouraging. Labi actually has Nigerian roots like me. It shows that it’s possible to get there even though there’s not a lot of people like us at that level in this industry. It’s important to believe there’s a place for us.

I also resist by showing students in Texas that being an accountant is an option. You don’t have to be a square to be an accountant. If I walk in a classroom with my hair how I like it, students might know their hair doesn’t mean they can’t make it in accounting. You don’t have to look a certain way to be in this industry. You can look like me and you can make it. There’s room for you too.

Beni Olaleye

What do you think would help us as a firm live our values and exemplify this year’s theme for Black History Month?

We can’t address the issue if we don’t acknowledge the barriers Black accountants faced in the United States. These barriers were pervasive across many industries and contributed to the problem of underrepresentation we see today. A lot of Black kids today believe that a career in sports or music may be their only way up the social ladder. That’s unfortunate.

As leader of the Central region of the Black BRG, I get sad when a person of color leaves Moss Adams because sometimes their reasons indicate we still have work to do. I’ll give an example: people naturally gravitate towards those similar to them and are able to easily take an interest in each other. When someone is willing to take an interest in a young professional to show them the ways their career can progress, it goes a long way toward making them feel like they belong.

Due to the lack of representation at the top, it’s more difficult for Black accountants to find this type of mentoring or coaching; this situation can be isolating and demoralizing. Affected individuals could believe leaving is the only viable solution. At times, it makes me feel the future for Black accountants is bleak.

Beni Olaleye

What would you say to others to inspire them to take an interest in someone else?

Well, I’m addicted to watching and playing soccer; so much so that some of my exes said I cheated on them with soccer because of how much I live and breathe it. My interest in soccer introduced me to a show called Ted Lasso. A quote from that show has stuck with me: “Be curious, not judgmental.”

My answer is to be curious and listen more. If we lead with an attitude of curiosity, we might address a lot of issues challenging us these days. There’s always a reason for something, and maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves and another person if we lead with curiosity.

A curious mindset could help you learn about your fellow human being. It could help a senior manager take an interest in an up-and-coming senior, even if they have nothing in common. It could encourage a young professional to question the status quo and persevere in the face of seeming roadblocks.

There are systemic things holding so many of us back and realizing this will help reinforce why it’s important to keep going. That’s what Black Resistance is—resilience. It’s fighting a problem that’s not going to solve itself. When it feels hard to go on, I try to remind myself that we’re blazing a trail.

Go Beyond the Desk

At Moss Adams, we believe in the power of possible to empower our clients and people to pursue success however they define it. Explore stories about our professionals, including their personal achievements, at our Beyond the Desk page.