September 2011 | accounting today 11
By joAnne BARRy
Diversity in CPA firms:
Real commitment or background noise?
In 1987, I was part of a joInt effort
between the new York state society of Cpas
and the national association of Black accoun-
tants to increase the number of minorities in
the Cpa profession. at the time, black Cpas
accounted for approximately one third of 1
percent of Cpas nationwide. That has grown
to roughly 3 percent, according to naBa; an
improvement, but still a troubling number.
public firm statistics are even more discon-
certing: Minorities made up 21 percent of ac-
counting employees at Cpa firms surveyed in
2010, according to the 2010 AICPA Trends re-
port, but only 9 percent were Cpas. of those,
5 percent were asian, 2 percent were Latino,
and only 1 percent were african-american.
Latinos and asians each represent 2 percent
of all firm partners; there are so few african-
american partners that they failed to eke out
a percentage point in the study. These figures
are abysmal and embarrassing. Considering
all the efforts and resources that have been
developed and spent over the past few dec-
ades to address racial inequalities in Cpa
firms, they are alarming.
all of the Big four firms have diversity
programs in place. pricewaterhouseCoopers
has a program that brings first-year african-american associates together to discuss challenges they might face at the firm. ernst &
Young has an “Inclusiveness officer.” These
are great steps for ward, but will they get us to
the solution the profession needs? These programs exist at the larger firms; what happens
at smaller firms where there is no inclusiveness officer? what happens to encourage minorities to excel, or to earn their Cpa licenses
once they are working at a firm?
Howard University’s school of Business
Center for accounting education surveyed
african-americans who left public account-
ing and found that four out of 10 surveyed
said that they were among the top performers
in their firms, with “above average” rankings
on their most recent annual evaluations. an-
other 56 percent were rated “average” and
only 4 percent received unsatisfactory (“be-
low average”) reviews. Most left because they
felt out of place or because they felt like they
didn’t belong at their firms.
IMPROVING THE SIGNAL
to address this, the Cae held a symposium in
December, “Upward Mobility and retention
of african-americans within the accounting
profession,” which took a close and honest
look at the barriers preventing african-americans from advancing their careers within
the public firm structure. the Cae invited
partners, directors, managers and other accounting firm professionals, as well as senior
members of naBa and the aICpa.
They concluded what the above statistics
show: that too many talented african-americans are being lost to other careers. “Cultural
problems remain a significant barrier for african-americans in the accounting profession,”
the symposium’s report reads. The symposium also addressed “taboo” subjects, such as
subtle racism, that it described as those that
are often glossed over by silence.
Howard’s frank K. ross, the Cae’s director, said that he has found that when african-americans leave firms, they head into
industry jobs, or go back to school to get their
MBas. In fact, when it comes to taxation, the
Irs continues to lead with a minority population of 34 percent, which includes 20 percent
in african-american tax professionals alone,
according to the Minorities in Tax 2010 report.
Hispanics in tax generally mirror their civilian work force employment percentage of 6
percent, reports taxDiversity.
How do we establish a common language in
which to address these issues? The new York
state society of Cpas counts more than 800
firm managing partners among its members,
crucial stakeholders in this process. we can
help. to move the discussion forward, the
n YssCpa is launching Career opportunities
in the accounting profession, phase II.
Coap, which was first developed by the
n YssCpa and naBa, and later moved under
the n YssCpa’s foundation for accounting
education, has been instrumental in intro-
ducing minority high school students in new
York state to the opportunities available to
them in the accounting profession. Many of
the more than 2,800 students who have passed
through the program in the past 25 years have
gone on to college and study accounting and
finance, but we’ve seen a similar dearth of
Cpas out of our crop of graduates. are they
successful? Yes. Most go on to graduate col-
lege and that’s something to celebrate in and
of itself. and many of them continue to be in
touch with the advisors that they participated
in the program with, or they are now Coap
advisors themselves, giving back to the pro-
gram that gave so much to them.
Joanne S. Barry, CAE, is executive director
of the New York State Society of CPAs.
ANOTHER VOICE IN THE CHORUS
Minority professional associations and historically black colleges have been focusing
on increasing diversity within the accounting
profession for years. But real change will not
occur until those who make the hiring and firing decisions and establish the culture within
their firms hear more than a “politically correct” code word when they encounter “
diversity.” This issue is about race and privilege
and what assumptions everyone — young minorities, educators, managing partners, Cpa
managers and directors — make about both.
“I can get you a rapid refund ... followed by an even quicker audit.”
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