December 10, 2018

The Advantages of Being an Accountant at a ‘Best Employer for Diversity’

diversity in accounting

Around the country, companies are making concerted efforts to diversify their workforces across physical ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and age.

But many businesses aren’t limiting their diversity efforts to simply hiring more minorities. They’re striving to change the culture, creating workplaces where all employees feel valued and safe, and everyone can compete for promotions, raises, and leadership positions on truly equal footing.

While there is more work to be done, progress has been made. For instance, U.S. women still earn 18% less than men when comparing median incomes—but the gender pay gap has been roughly cut in half since 1980, when women made 36% less than men.

As you evaluate employers for the next step in your accounting career, you’ll definitely want to consider the company’s commitment to diversity as a key factor in your decision. Forbes and research firm Statista recently released a guide that will help you identify diverse organizations: the 2018 Best Employers for Diversity.

In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of working for one of those companies and highlight the benefits of corporate diversity for minority and majority employees alike. But first, let’s take a look at the state of diversity in the accounting industry to see where things currently stand.

Diversity in accounting

The accounting industry has long suffered from a lack of diversity. Racial and gender uniformity plagues every aspect of the profession, but the problem starts with education. According to a 2017 AICPA Trends report, only 9% of students enrolled in college accounting programs are black/African-American and 11% are Hispanic/Latino.

Diversity issues intensify as they flow from college and into the accounting industry itself. The same AICPA study showed that 1% of public accounting CPAs are black/African-American and 3% are Hispanic/Latino.

The scene is a bit better for women, who make up 40% of public accounting CPAs. But that number shrinks to 23% when looking at demographics for firm partners.

And let’s not even talk about ethnic minorities at the partner level—they’re practically non-existent.

While some firms have engaged in diversity and inclusion initiatives to alleviate these problems, many accounting practices are still very much boys’ clubs—or more accurately, heterosexual white boys’ clubs.

Looking for an accounting job at a diverse company? Scroll to the bottom of this article to apply for open accounting jobs at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Diverse businesses make more money

The lack of diversity in the accounting industry raises obvious ethical questions regarding corporate culture and policy. But the impact of a non-diverse workforce could be financial as well.

In a 2015 study, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

We chatted with Trey White, vice president, controller, and chief accounting officer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (No. 33 nationally on Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity and the highest-ranked company in Tennessee.) He shared his thoughts with us about diversity in accounting and in the business world in general.  

“We recognize that the accounting profession is not historically known to be ethnically diverse,” White said. “That’s why we are committed to investing our resources to support a more inclusive accounting culture. We recently started an Employee Resource Group (ERG) aimed at increasing alignment between our corporate diversity strategies and our Accounting and Financial Reporting Division.”

According to White, if accounting is going to improve equality, it’s going to need to look outward as well as inward.

“We’re also extending our efforts beyond our walls and into the community to address the disparity of minority students enrolled in accounting programs. Our goal is to identify minorities who show an aptitude for an accounting-related field and help introduce them to the profession,” White said.

Diversity promotes creativity and boosts productivity

It’s been proven that diverse corporate teams generate more creative ideas and solve problems faster than their homogenous counterparts. We’re going a little old school here, but a 1996 study found that, when confronted with the same business challenge, ethnically and gender-diverse groups devised solutions that were more feasible and more effective than those proposed by homogenous groups.

Going even more old school, a 1993 research paper examined the effect of diversity on overall business performance. Citing infighting and cultural differences, this study reported that diverse groups initially struggled to analyze and solve business cases, while homogenous groups performed better. But the diverse groups’ results improved over time. They took the lead over the homogenous groups at the 17-week mark and continued to outperform them for the remainder of the experiment.

This data seems to suggest that, while diversity may initially cause inefficiency due to disparate attitudes, over time those distinctions become a business advantage.

We don’t yet know exactly why diversity improves performance. But one logical guess would be that assembling people with differing perspectives and mindsets results in a wider variety of ideas—thus creating a larger probability that the team will arrive at the “best” solution.

“The differences in our backgrounds and experiences open up many gateways for fresh ideas, creativity, and better checks and balances,” White said. “Additionally, when everyone feels valued—not just accepted or tolerated but valued—I believe that the engagement and productivity meter goes way up.”

Diverse businesses have happier clients

The accounting sector may be behind in matters of equality, but the industries it serves often aren’t. Everyone needs an accountant, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference.

Businesses with diverse talent pools will naturally look for diversity when choosing an accounting firm. And diverse internal accounting departments can better meet the needs within their companies and for their customers by providing a wider range of viewpoints and solutions.

In her book Crafting the Customer Experience For People Not Like You, Kathy McDonald argues that today’s businesses “must understand and cater to customers’ racial, ethnic, religious, generational, and geographic differences” in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Creating a new culture

Unfortunately, many corporate diversity programs are created as knee-jerk reactions to political stimuli. They’re often cynical PR stunts that fade away before making any real impact on the business.

For equality to become the norm in the business world, the entire corporate culture needs to shift. Businesses must go beyond hiring initiatives and find ways to embrace inclusiveness in everything they do.

“At BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, we have been intentional about cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce, and that begins by making these efforts a core part of our strategy and mission,” White said. “We realize that the needs of a diverse workforce are ever-changing, and that’s why we have made a long-term commitment to this effort.”

Diversity in action

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) is a great example of a company that’s walking the diversity walk, and one you should consider working at if diversity is important to you.

“We want our workforce to mirror the people we serve,” White said. “It starts with a diverse board of directors and executive team. From there, our efforts carry through all levels of management with diversity goals tied to executive incentive packages. We believe this is the right way to do business.”

BCBST offers a number of benefits for LGBTQ workers, including domestic partner healthcare benefits and transgender benefits. The company was recently ranked as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ employees, scoring a 95% on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for corporate policies and practices relating to LGBTQ workplace equality.

The company has also been lauded for its efforts in creating opportunity for women. It ranked No. 30 nationally on Forbes’ 2018 “Best Employers for Women” list, making it the highest-ranked Tennessee-based company and the second-highest-ranked company in the insurance sector. Its inclusion on the list was well-deserved, as 73% of the BCBST workforce and nearly 60% of its management team are comprised of women.

One area that’s often left out of the equality discussion is physical ability. Not so at BCBST, which provides special accessibility features and accommodations for those who self-identify as differently-abled and actively works to recruit and retain those employees.

It’s clear that BCBST is fully committed to creating a diverse work environment that goes beyond the simple objective of tolerance, striving instead to build a company that truly values people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds.

“We don’t just talk about diversity—we put our words into actions with measurable goals,” White said. “We have made a long-term commitment to create a culturally competent workforce where everyone is valued and respected.”

Accounting job openings at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

Want to join the diverse team at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee? Click one of the links below to apply for an open job.

Chattanooga, Tennessee accounting jobs

Financial Analyst, External Financial Reporting

Principal Consultant, Accounting Research & Policy

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Barry Salzberg isn’t Satisified with Deloitte’s Diversity

small salzberg.jpgAccounting firms get lots of recognition for their diversity, but Barry Salzberg isn’t satisified:
More, after the jump

Deloitte still plans to do aggressive hiring of Asian employees, including in Asia, where Salzberg said the firm was doing more offshore outsourcing of accounting work, especially at a center in Hyderabad, India. The firm also plans to ramp up its recruitment of African American and Latino employees.

What he can’t figure out is why 30% of annual recruits are Asian, but only 20% of the Deloitte workforce is Asian, and only 6% are partners or directors.
He has some ideas though:

“We think there is a cultural issue there with Asians typically being less aggressive, a little bit more reticent to speak up, and when they move to the manager and senior manager ranks, which happen very clearly within the organization, it then appears that their leadership skills are not being demonstrated in the minds of those that are evaluating them,” he said.

We’re not exactly sure if B. Salz is saying that Asians don’t make partner because they are reticent to speak up or if it’s because the people evaluating them have unattainable standards of performance.
One thing is for certain. The trend of bald men in leadership roles remains strong to very strong.
We’re sure you’ve got opinions on this. Like we mentioned, the firms aren’t shy about promoting how diverse they are. So what are you thoughts on diversity at Deloitte? In the Big 4? Discuss in the comments.

Why Are Accounting Firms Crappy at Diversifying Their Workforce?

Celebrate Diversity_Fullpic_1.gifSince accounting firms like to boast about their diverse workforce but always seem to maintain that it isn’t diverse enough, we would kindly ask, “which the hell is it?” The whole argument of “we can always do better” is fine but at least one academic is saying that the accounting profession has pretty much failed in its attempts to develop a more diverse workforce.
Continued, after the jump

Web CPA:

Frank K. Ross, director of the Howard University Center for Accounting Education, called for increased efforts at recruitment, retention and leadership development…Ross noted that despite four decades of effort and significant progress, accounting still trails other professions, and many large businesses, in minority representation. According to the AICPA’s most recent study, minorities currently hold only 5 percent of partnership positions at the largest firms, and only one percent of partners are African-American.

So if accounting firms of all sizes having been trying for forty years to diversify their workforce and still trail other professions and minorities only compromise 5% of the partner positions at the largest firms, does that mean these firms really suck at recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce?
If the AICPA is calling out its own members for sucking at diversity, we might have more of a corporate culture issue as the source of the problem. Professor Ross notes “significant progress” but that doesn’t really seem to be illustrated here.
Fortunately, like all good academics, Prof. Ross manages to have suggestions for improvement:

• Making diversity an integral part of the corporate culture – building it into the DNA of the organization;
• Developing special training for employees at all levels to help them become more sensitive to cultural differences and more aware of diverse styles of working;
• Identifying the best and brightest from their minority workforce and singling them out for focused support at all times, including downturns; and,
• Establishing diversity in cultural background and experience as key criteria in hiring and for work assignments.

Honestly we’re not crazy about these suggestions since we don’t understand how some of these would be implemented. All the firms require diversity training already so is the suggestion to require super-diversity training? And “identify the best and brightest”. Don’t the firms already claim to do this?
Since you all are on the front lines discuss – in the comments – your firm’s diversity initiatives and whether you think they are actually productive or its simply more of your firm’s sorry attempt to disinform about their lack of diversity. Is it the culture among the firms or are there other factors keeping these firms from improving on diversity?