Turning Point: Driving Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Accounting



The accounting profession has long been aware of its diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) challenges, having taken recent steps to drive DE&I in recruiting and talent pipeline initiatives. According to Accounting Today, however, less than half of accountants view the profession as equitable, recent studies show. Indeed, statistics appear to agree:

“Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the AICPA, the report noted that female professionals comprised 61.7 percent of the U.S. accounting workforce in 2019, but only represented 23 percent of partners in CPA firms in 2018. The same figures for minority professionals were: Black — 8.5 percent/1 percent; Hispanic/Latino — 8.9 percent/2 percent; and Asian — 12 percent/4 percent1.”

Further, a survey of 3,000 former and current accounting professionals revealed that approximately half of female, nonwhite and LGBTQIA respondents left their jobs at U.S. accounting firms, citing a lack of inclusion and equity1. So, where does that leave firms like KPMG with a 4-year-plan, according to Accounting Today, that seeks to achieve, among other things, “50 percent partner and managing director representation from underrepresented groups, including doubling Black representation” to go from here2?

Paul Bryant, partner at Plante Moran, PLLC, MICPA member and chair of the MICPA Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives Task Force recently weighed in on the current state of DE&I within firms, companies, and the profession, asserting there are multiple challenges to address. One of which is that while progress has been made in terms of recruiting from schools and through various organizations such as NABA (The National Association of Black Accountants), once young people are hired into the firm, a clear path to growth and advancement within firms is less obvious.

“Firms could do a better job of laying out the plan to show there’s a path for growth and attaining leadership positions,” Bryant says. “Without that clarity, new recruits can get frustrated and leave for other opportunities.” 

Another problem, Bryant points out, is that the pipeline itself is underdeveloped in regard to diversity. “Everyone wants to see individuals in leadership positions that are diverse, but in order to get someone to that leadership position, you need a pool of talent to draw from.”

The overall pool of available talent is an area of the accounting profession which Bryant says needs attention. “Because the pipeline is either nonexistent or so small, when people do leave the pipeline, it has a multiple effect.”

He explains that the profession as a whole should continue to work toward changing the image people have about what an accountant looks like and what they do. Bryant is optimistic that some progress on that front has been made. “Programs have been created for younger students that show the exciting and collaborative side of accounting before they get outdated stereotypes in their head.” This is a solid start, Bryant says, that the profession should continue to expand and develop. 

Another strategy Bryant agrees with is increased cooperation among state societies. “Especially with the MICPA, I think we’ve done a better job of interacting with other states to see what they’ve done. So, now, instead of finding and holding onto something that works in our own state to develop our people, our associations are conversing with one another to make the profession, as a whole, better.”

What can firms do better? Bryant emphasizes the importance of education. “At Plante Moran, we currently have an initiative we’re calling the ‘Year of Understanding’ designed to span the diversity spectrum and educate our staff on the experiences of our diverse staff, how to make our firm more inclusive, and how we can “walk the talk” in our commitment to social justice. And this is championed by our management team.”

Another way firms could work to improve DE&I across the board, according to Bryant, includes sharing information and best practices among firms. “There are opportunities for larger firms to share resources and mentor other firms that lack sufficient resources for initiatives such as diversity workshops.”

Greater participation in smaller task forces and committees within the various associations could also help firms, large and small, develop their approach to DE&I initiatives. “Involvement in the MICPA and AICPA gives you the opportunity to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on out in the community and get involved with the DE&I leaders.”

Firms should also take time to be introspective, he advises. “Be honest with regard to who you’re recruiting and where you’re recruiting. Firms that only recruit from certain schools tend to hire the same type of person over and over. This is hard to recognize if firms don’t shine a light on themselves.”

Another crucial element of progressing DE&I initiatives is learning how to productively hold difficult conversations. “We have several staff resource groups at Plante Moran that were created to have, in a comfortable environment, these sorts of discussions.”

Bryant says people will sometimes downplay how they’re feeling in regard to situations involving DE&I or feel their perspective will be dismissed as reading too much into a given situation. It’s therefore important for firms to “listen, and not downplay or minimize what people are bringing up.”

This point seems to illustrate just how deep the well on this issue runs. DE&I is a challenge the profession has to address from multiple angles at once. From attracting more talent to the pool to ensuring the paths to leadership are more visible to younger recruits, firms and companies need to set goals and know when their efforts are successful.

What does success look like? Once DE&I becomes a part of an organization’s culture, is something that is carried out naturally, and goals are no longer needed — that’s a good indicator. “When you don’t have to constantly speak about it and everyone just feels that’s the right thing to do you’re well along the path.”

Heighten your awareness on the DEI front for the benefit of your team and your organization with opportunities from the MICPA this season:

  1. McCabe, Sean. “Less Than Half of Accountants Say the Profession is Equitable.Accounting Today. 22 Feb. 2021. Accessed on 21 Apr. 2021.
  2. McCabe, Sean. “KPMG U.S. Publishes Inaugural DE&I Report.Accounting Today. 17 Mar. 2021. Accessed on 21 Apr. 2021.

Source: MICPA

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