If you’re like me, your eyes glaze over when firms start talking about “diversity initiatives.” Most of the time, they’re bullshit buzzword-filled discussions involving a white board and a “shout out your answers!” brainstorming session led by a white guy in a skinny tie who wouldn’t know diversity if it punched him in the windpipe.
Can you imagine if diversity actually climbed out of the Xeroxed pages of a CPE handout and punched that white guy in the windpipe just above his half-Windsor knot? Then maybe we’d actually take notice and realize that diversity’s not some nonsense abstract cliché, but rather, a tangible and kick-ass concept that benefits the accounting profession in enormous ways.
I hate that "diversity" makes my eyes glaze over because it is something our profession desperately, desperately needs. The stats are dismal, and you should see them because the future of our profession depends on them.
“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 13% increase in the number of accounting jobs between 2012 and 2022," however, "AICPA data show that, combined, African-Americans and Hispanics hold just 4% of all partnerships in the profession, and those of Asian/Pacific descent hold 5%,” says the Journal of Accountancy. Nationwide, although African-Americans and Hispanics make up “13.1% and 16.9% of the US population in 2012,” they made up only “4% and 6% of new hires in 2011-12 at CPA firms.”
In other words, the profession is dominated by Caucasians and we have little to no diversity. In Michigan, for instance, there are nearly 18,000 certified public accountants and only 1% are African-American,” according to Deloitte Michigan managing partner Mark Davidoff.
Unfortunately, very few minority students are pursuing accounting degrees either, so the “white folk lead the pack” situation will not improve any time soon.
In light of these dire numbers, a recent Deloitte survey found a difference between how generations define diversity in the workplace.
Deloitte’s study claims that Baby Boomers believe people of all demographics should be included in a workplace. Accordingly, they measure diversity by the percentage of minorities in the profession.
Millennials, on the other hand, believe that diversity means teamwork among people with different thoughts and life experiences rather than race, creed, or age. “New perspectives” are much more difficult to quantify than skin color; however, don’t diverse perspectives derive from mixing people of different races, creeds, and backgrounds on a team?
Baby Boomers and Millennials are both right: include everyone, and then let everyone’s ideas mesh so you can finish the audit, file the tax return, finish the filing, etc. more effectively. Diversity, regardless of your definition, equals new ideas, and new ideas equal winning.
But if diversity is so positive, then why -– even in 2015 — is accounting still so homogenous? Simple. Not enough people have been exposed to the profession. Many studies have shown that “young people, including underrepresented minorities, hold the profession in relatively low regard, do not understand what accountants do, and do not appreciate the career opportunities the profession offers […] [T]his lack of esteem is widely shared by parents and educators.”
Real talk: Accounting gets no respect. How many of your friends think that as a CPA, you’re a glorified AP clerk or an H&R Block temp worker? Somebody once said to me, “They have Master’s degree for that? I thought most accountants got their certificates from a two year school.” (Diversity can crawl off the pages of my CPE handout and punch HER in the windpipe as well.)
How is it possible for high schoolers, educators, and parents to hold our profession in low regard? If we truly are the capital market gatekeepers that we're led to believe we are, shouldn't everyone know who protects their investments and keeps their businesses running? That we’re protecting the public’s retirement savings, and we’re the only thing standing between Mom & Pop and Enron?
We need people to respect our profession so that our future new hires are smart and talented CPA candidates. Lord knows I can’t stomach another intern asking me “Do you think the pages to the financial statement tie out should be in numerical order before I scan them to you?”
To change the public’s negative perception of the accounting profession, we need to take action. Real action. Not this “diversity initiative” bullshit with crappy PowerPoints, squeaky dry erase markers, and Venn diagrams stuffed with abstract nonsense that we all glaze over while we pick over the free bagel table. No. We need a real plan.
Well, for once, Detroit has a plan (and it’s not Chapter 9).
Here, in my beloved burning city, accountants are taking action to improve the regard of the accounting profession among students and educators. Deloitte and Cornerstone Schools in Detroit are teaming up to educate African-American students about accounting. For perspective, Detroit’s population is 82.7% African-American and many of its students have no idea what accounting is, that an accounting career is a real possibility for them, or that an accountant can be anything from an AP clerk to a partner at Deloitte (in the most beautiful building in the city) to the Governor of Michigan.
Cornerstone’s new program, paid in part by Deloitte, is open to students in grades 5-12 and “will provide students enhanced training in math, accounting, problem-solving, management and business ethics,” as well as emphasize “student character, professional skills, critical thinking, public speaking and team-building.”
Although Davidoff claims the program “isn’t about creating a pipeline for Deloitte,” the firm's employees will “help develop curriculum, volunteer in classrooms as speakers and provide mentorship and internship opportunities.” Deloitte hopes that the program will create more interest in accounting careers among African-American students.
Deloitte’s program is similar to one of the AICPA’s diversity initiative. The AICPA’s Pipeline Program plans to educate minority high school and community college students about potential accounting careers.
The AICPA is actively working to increase diversity and improve public perception of our profession? Up until now, I genuinely thought the only thing the AICPA was good for were those obnoxious “save big money on life insurance” mailers.
Fostering diversity isn't as simple as herding recruits towards your booth at the campus career fair or blaring initiatives to any media outlet that will listen. There have to be more sincere efforts by the firms and others to start conversations earlier with the students that have misconceptions about the accounting and its career potential.
What do you think? Does Deloitte's partnership with Cornerstone Schools seem like a step in the right direction?
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