As the nation takes a closer look at systemic racism, business educators and the professionals ask hard questions.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants launched the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion in 2012. The commissions current leadership offers a series of insights for everyone from graduating accountancy students to firm leadership in a recent Journal of Accountancy article.
Ken Bouyer, director of inclusiveness recruiting for EY Americas, says that diversity awareness begins at the hiring gate. He cautions firms to be watchful for a “preference tradition and requirement” that may lead to the exclusion of diverse candidates or hires.
“If you’re hiring someone in a role, is your preference why you’re hiring that person? Is it a tradition? What really are the requirements?” he asked. “I think it’s important to just pause to reflect on your own organization, your own actions. I think the small things you do can have a ripple effect.”
A different question — why don’t more women achieve partnership — is the subject of a CPA Practice Advisor story. They report that while firms that promote gender diversity show stronger financial health than non-inclusive firms, only 24 percent of partners in accounting firms are women. That’s despite the fact that women now make up nearly sixty percent of the accountancy field in the United States.
Boler College of Business Associate Professor of Accountancy Joanna Garcia, Ph.D., has observed the diversity divide from a variety of perspectives, including working in a Big Four firm and as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Garcia offers these insights for younger accountants:
- For women and people of color, seek out mentors that both do and do not look like you. A mentor with a similar background can help you navigate issues around gender or race/ethnicity, but while firms continue to be led by white men, it's also important to have someone from that demographic in your corner.
- As you progress in your career and have more influence over hiring and even client selection, be assertive in pushing for diversity. Remember that you don't have to represent a particular underrepresented group to fight for their full inclusion.
- Be open to growth. No one represents or is knowledgeable about every type of diversity, so think about how you interact, engage, and think about people who are different from you.
Approaching diversity, inclusion, equity, and social change can be intimidating or overwhelming for people who just aren't sure how they can make a difference. I think it's helpful to remember that there are a multitude of roles we can take on. Public protest is one action. We also need people working for change inside institutions, including accounting firms. This may be quieter and slower work, but it's equally as important.