search button
newscenter logo
Sunday, December 10, 2023

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

Honey Villalobos will earn her MSA from SDSU. (Courtesy photo) Honey Villalobos will earn her MSA from SDSU. (Courtesy photo)

Filipinx Graduate Student Stares Down Stereotypes

Honey Lynn Samuelson Villalobos says her Filipino heritage provides her with insight into the challenges faced by Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) people in the accounting industry.
By Suzanne Finch

After earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2005 from what was then San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration, Honey Lynn Samuelson Villalobos immediately started work at a San Diego accounting firm. However, it was far from a perfect work environment. 


“The firm had only two women supervisors, no women in management and only white male partners. And of all those people, only one was a person of color,” said Villalobos, whose mother is Filipino and whose father is Finnish/Swedish. “Whenever I asked any person in a leadership role for guidance, I was frequently answered with a backhanded comment related to me being a woman.”


Villalobos left after less than two years in search of a position where her career could grow but found prejudice was not just confined to her previous company. 


“Filipinx and other APIDA people have frequently been seen as immigrants or foreigners no matter how long we’ve lived in this country or even if we were born here,” she said. “Friends who have referred me for professional positions have been asked about my language skills once the hiring management found out that I was half Asian.”  


Back to School


In 2016, Villalobos began working at her current position as an accountant for a local leadership training and development company. 


When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many of the nation’s workplaces in 2020, she found herself partially furloughed and she re-enrolled at SDSU to earn her master of science in accountancy degree from the Fowler College of Business.


“Instead of looking for a new job or a side gig to supplement my lost wages, I decided to take that extra time to invest in myself by earning my master’s degree,” said Villalobos. “Before that, I wasn’t sure I had the opportunity to work and commute to school, but since a lot of my classes were online, I didn’t have to make the drive.”


But things had changed in both the accounting industry and in the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy since she earned her bachelor’s degree.


 “In the 17 years since my time as an undergraduate and a new accounting associate, I’ve seen an increase in diversity in the accounting industry and with an increase in APIDA people in all areas of leadership,” said Villalobos. who is on track to earn her degree in December. “When I earned my bachelor’s degree, there were no minority women teaching my accounting courses at SDSU and now there are several. 


“Since I’ve returned for my master’s degree, I have been inspired by two wonderful Asian women professors and graduate advisors (Yan Luo and Janie Chang). … I didn’t realize how much I needed to see them as examples, but I hope to serve as an inspiration to other women of color in helping them attain their goals that they may not see possible.” 


Having had first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing APIDA professionals in the accounting industry, Villalobos worked with Luo to create a case study examining these issues for students in Luo’s intermediate accounting classes (ACCTG 331). The case required students to identify existing and potential barriers that inhibit diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI) in the accounting industry, and Villalobos examined demographic figures on certified public accountants from an industry database.


“Her first-hand experience with some of these barriers made Lynn’s contribution to the case study even more valuable since she was able to help visualize real-world solutions,” Luo said. 


Progress at Hand


Though Villalobos has seen the progress that APIDA people have made in recent years, she still sees and hears painful reminders of prejudice. 


“I get comments about how well I speak English,” she said. “When I’m questioned about my heritage, it makes me feel like I don’t belong.”


Despite the awkward and even painful situations still faced as an APIDA woman, she is hopeful. 


“Can we overcome this ‘foreigner’ stereotype? I absolutely think it’s possible, but as we have seen, it will take time,” she said. “For example, the first accounting firm I worked for looks so different now with underserved minorities and women in prominent roles. It’s wonderful to see change, but we need to see it from our leaders in government as well, leading by example from the top down.”