Rethinking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

By Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, CEO and Executive Director, NJCPA – August 28, 2020
Rethinking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Associations exist to bring people togeth­er. They bear a great responsibility for shaping society and can be a big force for change. The NJCPA’s purpose includes elevating the accounting profession and helping our members create positive impact through their work. 

As a concerned and socially conscious organization, the NJCPA is resolved to do the work necessary to foster fundamen­tal changes that address inequality and exclusion. To this end, we have formed a task force to outline an action plan to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion for our members and the companies and organizations where they work.

We do have our work cut out for us. After all, of the more than 500,000 li­censed CPAs in the United States, only 16 percent are comprised of Asian, Hispanic and Black ethnicities, according to a 2019 Trends report from the American Insti­tute of CPAs (AICPA). Unfortunately, di­versity in the CPA profession has changed very little in the last 25 years. 

The Challenges and Benefits 

Demographic changes are making diversity a business imperative. The total number of minorities in the U.S. will be the majority by 2042, and the number of minorities that are business owners or occupy top roles continues to grow. Firms looking to do business with those companies need to ask themselves, “Do we have the know-how, understanding and in-house human capital to fully understand the culture, needs and sensitivities of our minority clients?” 

Studies confirm that diverse and inclu­sive teams are not only more innovative, but also produce superior financial returns. Here are just a few key points to consider:

  • A significant majority (67 percent) of active and passive job seekers say that they want to work for a company that has a diverse workforce.
  • Racially diverse teams outperform industry norms by 35 percent.
  • Worldwide, companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43 percent more likely to experience higher profits.

When an inclusive culture exists at an organization, true change is possible. A 2019 Deloitte Insights report shows why it is important for boards to educate orga­nizations about this issue and how it can impact strategy. The report recommends that boards should align with manage­ment on the definition of inclusion and proactively provide input to shape the inclusion vision, strategies and goals; understand the organization’s diversity and inclusion maturity levels and efforts; and stay aware of the barriers to fostering an inclusive culture. 

The accounting profession, though, has difficulty holding onto qualified candidates. At each step in the staffing chain, the percentage of minority repre­sentation drops, from college enrollment to overall CPA firm employees. A recent Howard University study identified four primary obstacles for minority profes­sionals on the job: not feeling that they were given high-profile and challenging assignments, lack of access to the right social networks, not feeling accepted or welcomed at work, and not feeling satisfied with the level of feedback given for their performance.

What Can Help?  

Mentoring, of which I’m a big proponent, has shown tremendous success. In the Howard University survey, 78 percent of Black accounting professionals said that their career had benefited from a fruitful mentoring relationship in their current work environment. 

Firms and companies also need to look at the affordability of the CPA Exam. The NJCPA and AICPA recently developed Exam scholarships, and I encourage ac­counting firms and companies of all sizes to provide financial assistance by paying for CPA Exam registration and associated fees for their staff pursuing the CPA license.

And every one of you can help. We welcome your input about measures the NJCPA should consider as part of its diver­sity, equity and inclusion efforts. Send your ideas to feedback@njcpa.org


Ralph Albert Thomas

Ralph Albert Thomas

Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, is the CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. He was appointed by New Jersey Senate President Sweeney to the New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group in 2018. He was also previously appointed to the AICPA Foundation Board and the inaugural AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. Ralph is a lifetime member and former national and chapter president of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), was appointed chair of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) State Society Relations Committee, and is a member of the accounting advisory boards of Lehigh, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Montclair State, Felician, Thomas Edison universities and Middlesex County College. He can be reached at rthomas@njcpa.org.

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This article appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.