A reader on my post about why there are so few black CPAs recently left a comment saying he thought accounting degrees for black students weren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. That line of thinking led to an even broader argument about the value of ANY college degree for black students.
The reasoning behind this? Prior experience interviewing for an accounting role and feeling some sort of prejudice because he’s black. He then went on to share a link highlighting how black students with an Associate’s degree have the same chance to land a job as white students with a high school diploma, and black students with some college have the same odds as white high school drop-outs.
No doubt these figures are enough to make your stomach lurch, but the argument the reader made conveniently overlooked a huge takeaway from the foundation chart within the article.
The gap in probability of employment between whites and blacks decreases as education increases.
Double standards in the workplace manifest themselves in various forms
Whether it be race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, there’s a good chance at some point in your career you’ll find someone who makes certain assumptions based on one of these characteristics that you don’t share with them.
The bad news is we still need to continue this dialogue about prejudice in business and hiring practices.
The good news is you can improve your odds of success. I’m going to be honest with you, though. It’s going to take a change in mindset, one focused on committing to playing and winning the game instead of lamenting the unfairness of the rules.
If you’re not first you’re last
The key to handling any double standards in the workplace you face is having a mentality of wanting to prove you’re the best each and every day. I’d be lying if I told you this wasn’t a factor in my decision to get my CPA and MBA.
When I started working in the controller’s group at Pepsi, I remember telling people I wanted to take the CPA exam. I was told more than once by several people that having the CPA wasn’t necessary to progress in the group. But I looked around me and you can probably guess what I saw.
Everyone in supervisor positions and above had the CPA designation and had spent time at a big 4 accounting firm. None of them were black. I had neither of these “nice to haves”.
On top of that, I worked closely with two other black accountants who had tried unsuccessfully to make it to supervisor. Neither of them had their CPA.
At that point, it was a no brainer for me. If all I had to do was take a test to gain some credibility in my career progression, that’s what I was going to do.
Did I think there was a double standard at play? Possibly. Did it make me happy this thought was even crossing my mind? Definitely not. But the truth is the double standard was on the floor and not the ceiling. By that I mean if I had aspirations of being CFO or CAO at a global company, doing so without the CPA designation would be impossible. A different standard for the minimum still isn’t right but if you re focused on being the best, the double standard becomes less relevant.
Always focus on results
Regardless of the group you identify with that’s victim to the double standard, you’ll find it’s amazing how many opportunities come your way when you help people keep more money in their pockets. Deliver consistently in whatever it is you do, and that’s the ultimate equalizer.
Update: After reading this post, my friend at www.thestudentcpa.com sent me this link of Ken Chenault, CEO at American Express, discussing the lack of diversity at the CEO level. Enjoy.