Attracting, Retaining a Minority Workforce
Encouraging CPA Diversity
Attracting, Retaining a Minority Workforce
By Charles Johnson III
Diversity in the certified public accounting (CPA) profession over the last 25 years has not kept up with the demographics of the general population.
Minorities will constitute nearly half of the U.S. population by 2025, according to the United States Census Bureau. These demographic shifts have resulted in more minority-owned businesses. As a result, there is a greater need for CPAs of diverse backgrounds.
Becoming the first minority chair of the Indiana CPA Society in 96 years is both a personal achievement and an organizational milestone. The fact that this prestigious organization is committed to advancing the CPA profession in Indiana by embracing diversity is gratifying.
Though the term “minority” is used less and less every day, these new minority business owners often look for CPAs and other professional service providers with similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Serving clients and employers is one reason for increasing diversity in the profession, but it is the range of thought that comes with ethnic and cultural perspectives that can strengthen the profession and shape its future.
Speaking of the future, the question becomes: How do we encourage students with diverse backgrounds to study accounting and pursue a career as a CPA? One way is to reach students at the high school and early college levels and increase awareness of the advantages of being a CPA. The Society has been working to reach students through its high school ambassador program, college campus presentations and annual events.
It will take more than just awareness, however. One key piece that has been missing is the active participation of mentors to help guide these students. Prospective diverse accounting students need to have someone they can identify with as they go through school and move forward with their careers. Mentors can provide that identifiable character.
The most important factor in my decision to pursue a career in accounting was the accounting/bookkeeping class I took in high school. But I did not have a mentor at that time and even early into my career. There were very few minorities in my accounting classes at Butler University. While I persevered, many others have not had the same opportunities or direction.
A new program, Indiana CPA Society (INCPAS) Scholars, has been designed not only to fill the mentor gap, but also to provide students with multiple touch points. Launched this summer, the program matches up to 20 Indiana high school students with mentors from CPA firms and offers a monthly activity to keep the students engaged. Eight of the largest accounting firms in the state and seven universities are partnering with the initiative.
Traveling the path
A new program alone is not going to solve the issue: Finding career opportunities is the biggest obstacle for minority CPAs. There are not many minority-owned CPA firms, meaning minorities must be provided opportunities within the majority firms. Organizations have to make a concerted effort to reach out to minorities – the largest firms are doing that, but others need to follow suit.
Not only is hiring a diverse workforce vital, but retaining that workforce is just as important. That will involve providing opportunities for minorities to grow within their firms, such as reaching partner level. According to a 2010 study from the Center for Accounting Education at Howard University, despite the best efforts of the CPA profession, only 1% of firm partners are African-American – and only 3% of chief financial officers at Fortune 500 companies are a minority.
This isn’t going to be easy and it’s not going to be a short-term proposition. The Society has made diversity part of its strategic plan as a long-term goal. A personal goal during my term as chair is to create awareness within the CPA profession that there is still a lot of work to do to increase diversity. I also plan to ensure all of our current programming is making progress toward that effort.
We won’t be able to recruit all of the best and brightest diverse talent, but we hope to get our share. We will be successful if we achieve that goal, as well as encourage others to go to college and pursue their chosen careers, whatever those may be.
Author: Charles Johnson III, CPA, is managing principal of Engaging Solutions, LLC in Indianapolis and chair of the board of the Indiana CPA Society. He can be contacted at (317) 283-8300.