Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Why the Profession Needs to Change and How to Do It
“Diversity in the CPA profession has changed very little in the last 25 years.”
That was the opening line to a diversity article I wrote in 2012. Unfortunately, the line still applies in 2021.
For decades, the accounting profession has pursued diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to create opportunities for all to feel welcome, valued and critical to serving the public interest. Yet, progress is inconsistent at best.
There are more than 500,000 licensed CPAs in the United States, but only 2 percent of them are Black. According to the American Institute of CPAs, minority hiring in the profession has seen slight improvements but overall stagnation.
Even though accounting has been consistently ranked as one of the leading majors for students, minority students are not considering it a viable option, tending to opt for other majors or professions where they see more diversity. Additionally, the profession has difficulty holding onto qualified candidates. At each step in the supply chain, the percentage of minority representation drops, from college enrollment to overall CPA firm employees.
The profession must dispel the stereotypes and misconceptions about accountants and the business community and address the social, cultural and economic challenges associated with attracting minorities into the CPA profession.
A Business Imperative
To put it simply, 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 who are business owners or occupy top roles continues to grow. Organizations 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?”
There are many valid reasons for accounting firms and companies to pursue a DEI strategy. Here are two key reasons:
- The mission case. DEI directly and indirectly enhances a company’s mission. A diverse group of internal and external constituents working in an inclusive culture are empowered to speak up, take risks and think big, and are more likely to co-create and participate in needed solutions — all to the benefit of the company’s mission as strategic organizational decisions are made.
- The revenue case. One of the most basic claims in the business case for diversity is that diversity is profitable. Improved productivity and creativity, better market connections and reduced costs from turnover are all said to positively affect the bottom line resulting in an improved competitive position relative to less diverse companies.
NJCPA’s Commitment to DEI
In principle and in practice, the NJCPA is committed to diversifying the accounting profession, because we understand that a workforce that's reflective of the communities it serves is strongly positioned to succeed in an evolving, global marketplace.
We support diversity in the profession through our DEI action plan, which includes the following:
- Implementing processes that expand entry points for potential Board members, mentoring and developing the leadership of diverse Board members, and nominating and appointing diverse candidates as successors to committee chairs and interest group leaders
- Educating members about the business case for diversity in the accounting profession
- Honoring DEI champions in accounting and finance through the NJCPA Ovation Awards
- Raising awareness of the accounting profession and providing programs and financial assistance to students from underrepresented populations through career awareness presentations and our new minority scholarship pilot program
For the NJCPA, DEI is both a business principle and practice. So, we will continue to commit time, attention and resources to DEI and help members do the same in their companies.
This article appeared in the Winter 2021/22 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.