CPA Real Talk: Driving Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Accounting



The conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion within the accounting profession has been ongoing for more than 50 years. There are several reasons many within the profession are seeking to expand the pipeline to be more inclusive, viewing it as an ethical, social and practical imperative. Not to mention that more diverse firms tend to perform better than their less diverse competitors. Yet, according to Bloomberg Tax, as the number of Asian and Hispanic accountants has grown over the past 25 years to 12%, the pipeline of African American talent has remained relatively stagnant, at roughly 9% of all accountants and less than 1% of CPAs1. In short, the profession remains predominately white, led predominately by men. 


Figure 1 Image (c) 2019 Bloomberg Tax & Accounting

According to the CPA Journal, early impressions are key for working toward a more diverse profession, particularly among African American students. In a recent survey of 50 undergraduate African American students of which one-third were accounting majors, 53% of respondents stated they personally knew at least one CPA. Only 11% of nonmajors responded similarly2.

The heart of the issue, according to MICPA member Robyn Fuller, CPA, CGMA and author of children’s book “Let’s Be Fair,” which aims to introduce children to financial literacy and responsibility, is exposure. Fuller, who is a member of the MICPA Diversity, Equity & and Inclusion Task Force and the Emerging Leaders Task Force, explained, “Accounting can be somewhat intimidating...If it’s something that hasn’t been introduced at an earlier stage in your matriculation.”

Fuller, who attended high school at Cass Tech cited an early introduction to accounting as a young student as the ultimate reason she became a CPA. “I had the luxury of learning accounting in high school. Therefore, it was not intimidating to for me by the time I reached college. Many of my peers did not have that luxury and most students do not in the public school system.

“Many of my African American peers who are doing well in the industry had the same luxury. Again, the requirement is small, or non-existent.” This, according to Fuller, correlates directly with the level of representation within the industry.

This observation tracks with similar findings reported by the Journal of Accountancy in 2014 which suggested that young people, underrepresented groups included, hold the accounting profession in low regard, and do not understand what accountants do or what opportunities the profession offers. Further, this negative perception is shared among the two groups with the most influence among young people: parents and educators3.

“I started writing books last year, and when I was doing research,” Fuller expounded, “I found out that only a third of schools in the United States are required to have personal finance as part [of their] requirement to graduate.” The problem with this, Fuller said, “It is one thing to have money, but it’s a whole other thing to manage it and maintain it and save it…That’s why I think it’s very important for school systems to incorporate a curriculum that involves personal finance and accounting. I think it would have a very broad impact.”

As organizations continue efforts to broaden their spectrum of diversity, the question of how to expand the pool of talent to attract more people of color and diversity of thought remains. Retention efforts are important, but getting young people enrolled into college accounting programs is the only practical way to increase numbers. To that end, Fuller suggests seeking action through advocacy. “Just like we may bring up conversations that affect tax law, I feel that if this is something that is truly important for our organization, our industry – to be more diverse – then this is something we should be bringing to them [legislators] as well.”

To those already enrolled in accounting programs, Fuller encourages, “If you’re in school, and you’re in accounting, then you can pass the CPA exam. I don’t want to say it is easy, but it is not far beyond your reach.”

Indeed, not all students that study accounting become CPAs or even practice within the industry. In fact, Bloomberg Tax reports that the rate of participation among African American students in particular drops at every career level. With 9% enrolling into accounting programs, 4% hiring into firms and 1% becoming firm-employed CPAs1.

Fuller added, “Studying, staying the course – staying focused on that end goal – is really important.”

  1. Fifty Years, Little Progress for Black Accountants.Bloomberg Tax. 8 July 2019. Accessed on 24 Feb. 2021.
  2. Violette, Gorge & Carol L. Cain. “ICYMI | Why Are African American Students Still Not Majoring in Accounting?” CPA Journal. Aug. 2020. Accessed on 24 Feb. 2021.
  3. Ross, Frank K., et al. “A Pipeline for Diversity.” Journal of Accountancy. 1 Aug. 2014. Accessed on 24 Feb. 2021.


Robyn Fuller, CPA, CGMA
MICPA member Robyn Fuller, CPA, CGMA is the author of children’s book “Let’s Be Fair,” which aims to introduce children to financial literacy and responsibility, is exposure. Fuller, is also a member of the MICPA Diversity, Equity & and Inclusion Task Force and the Emerging Leaders Task Force.

Source: MICPA

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