Recognizing Faculty Research

Erica Harris

Welcome to our new feature highlighting faculty conducting research related to gender in the workplace. For our inaugural column, we interviewed Erica E. Harris, PhD, CPA, Andrew J. Melton Jr. Assistant Professor of Accounting.

Can you tell us about your research and its implications?
I am proud to represent Villanova in the research community as a scholar in the area of nonprofit accounting. I believe my research is especially valuable to Villanova as it dovetails knowledge creation with the mission focus of our university to “nurture a concern for the common good.” In expanding what we know about how nonprofit organizations account for their operations, my area of study is able to inform nonprofit leaders in ways that strengthen their ability to serve our communities.

What spurred you to pursue this line of research?
Given my past and current affiliations with the nonprofit community professionally, as a nonprofit CFO, and personally, as a nonprofit board member, I am devoted to evolving our understanding of this critical component of our society. I believe that nonprofit organizations are often able to address social needs and issues in more meaningful ways than their for-profit counterparts, however, accounting research in the nonprofit sector pales in comparison to depth and breadth of academic work in the for-profit marketplace.

What is your favorite aspect of your research?
I love the opportunity to work with so many different colleagues at Villanova as well as other business schools across the country with the common tie to nonprofit accounting research. 

What is the most challenging aspect of your research?
Access to data. Because the nonprofit sector is such an under studied area of our economy much less time and attention has been devoted to compiling and making data available to nonprofit researchers. Many of my projects rely on hand collected data which can take many months to collect. Just ask my fantastic research assistant, Quynh Tran, who has been single handedly collecting background information for a sample of over 600 female CEOs. She has been working on this project over the entire Fall semester and will likely need much of the Spring semester to complete this data collection process.

What are you hoping to pursue next in your research?
I have lots of projects underway at the moment but one that I am especially excited about is the project I mentioned collecting data for. Gender disparity and associated consequences have been well-researched and documented in corporate  America, however, there are limited gender studies in the nonprofit sector. This project, co-authored with Veena Brown from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, seeks to address this shortfall. So far we have conducted an exploratory investigation of gender diversity in the nonprofit sector. Using a determinants model, we identify the characteristics of firms that are more likely to have a female CEO. Here we find that nonprofits with female CEOs are less complex, better governed, and more fiscally responsible. Then, in a matched sample, we test how nonprofits with female CEOs perform, in comparison with their male counterparts. In this analyses find that organizations employing female CEOs report lower future donations, but higher future profitability consistent with a focus on operations in place of fundraising. With our expanded data collection we are hoping to pinpoint the backgrounds of the female CEOs in our sample to aid in our understanding of this important nonprofit leadership role.


What drew you to study Accounting and pursue a PhD in that field?
I love puzzles, I love when everything fits together just right. Accounting and especially research in accounting is really satisfying in that way.

What drew you to Villanova?
I enjoy being a part of an organization that is focused on community and the greater good.

Can you tell us a little about your journey?
I was actually a finance undergrad at The University of Florida, I really enjoyed the analytical side of finance but I was not sure I was cut out for the sales side of many entry-level finance jobs. Facing graduation I applied to a few masters programs and was admitted to an internationally focused MBA program at the University of Miami. There I met an accounting professor who asked if I had ever thought about doing accounting. I said, no way, accountants are “too boring”, a few weeks later she invited me to an MBA mixer with the big firms and the rest is history. I landed my first job as a staff auditor with KPMG in Miami where I worked on two FORTUNE 500 audits, in addition to the audit of the Food Stamps program in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. I went on to be the controller at a luxury home builder where my former KPMG manager had taken the position as the CFO. Around that time, my husband - who I met while he was earning his law degree at UM - and I got married and we moved to the Philadelphia area for him to work for his family business. I worked with him for a few years before returning to Florida to serve as the CFO at a mid-size nonprofit healthcare organization. During that time I met an accounting Professor at a women’s philanthropic group that I was a part of who asked if I had ever thought about teaching. I started teaching as an adjunct professor and really, really enjoyed it. In 2006 I returned to the Philadelphia area to start my PhD program at Temple University. I finished in 2011 and served my first four years at Rutgers University, Camden. I moved to Villanova in the Fall of 2015 and could not be happier!

What do you like to do when you are not teaching and doing research

I enjoy exploring new places near and far. This past summer I visited Vail, Colorado with my two sons – what a beautiful part of our country, especially in the summer time! I also spent a week in Nicaragua at a women’s surf camp, learning to surf and exploring the beautiful beaches and country side. I am an avid tennis player and play in a year-round competitive league, but also enjoy just fooling around on the tennis court with my family.

What are one or two “take aways” from your research for our readers, remembering that we have an audience with varied backgrounds!
Donors care! They spend a substantial amount of time and effort assessing the organizations they support. There is a lot of good information available and if you are a donor that is not accessing and incorporating financial accounting information into your decision, perhaps you could consider doing so in the future. By holding US charities to high standards for the delivery of their services and accomplishment of their missions, we all win.

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