First, if you clicked the link for this post and don’t happen to be black, thank you. Now, stick around because this post is looking for your help just as much as anyone else’s.
Black representation amongst CPAs is HORRIBLE.
According to this article from Accounting Today, less than 1% of CPA firms are black and this article from the Washington Business Journal had the number of black CPAs overall stagnate at 3% for 10+ years. While I respect both of these sources, especially Accounting Today, there is another section in that article I wanted to ignore but after looking at it over and over again for the last couple of weeks, I just can’t.
Minorities tend to have a lot more single mothers,” said Ross. “As a result, job demands have a significant impact on their needs.”He noted that there is often a cultural problem for many minorities fitting into the culture of an accounting firm, especially with the long hours in the workday. As a result, many minority accountants take the first job offer that comes along after they arrive at a public firm, often landing at staff accounting jobs in various industries
I mean, wow. I guess they have it figured out. Black accountants apparently are oversexed AND lazy. Amazing. At least that was the thinking at the end of 2011 when that article was written. I’m not sure how the editor let that slide but I’m not going to harp on it too much here, at least not in this post. The fact is that people across all backgrounds struggle with the CPA exam and the hours. Both are a challenge and the lifestyle isn’t for everyone but to say somehow black people are somehow predisposed to dislike long hours lacks reason. There’s more to the story than that.
We NEED more diversity in accounting classrooms.
- One of the faculty members at CMC heavily involved in diversity recruiting made an instant impact on me. He hails from Egypt and his passion for making an impact on the profession has stayed with me since the day I met him.
- I attended an AICPA leadership conference and received a copy of this book talking about the struggle of Blacks in the early 1900s and the lengths they went through to achieve the CPA designation.
The reason we don’t have the desired diversity in accounting classrooms or in the profession comes back to a simple fact….
Accounting is never considered a sexy profession.
And by sexy of course I mean the profession most associated with affording a few luxuries, not just being able to pay your bills on time. Doctors and lawyers, professions requiring the most school (and most debt) tend to be held in the highest regard. The truth is in many black communities, there’s a focus on being able to say, “I made it” AND show it. Getting your CPA is an accomplishment but doesn’t have nearly the same cachet as saying you’re a doctor or attorney. And to be clear, it’s not like people come up with this notion on their own.
I went to a boarding high school through a scholarship program based out of Chicago and my wife and I both have spent time volunteering with them since graduating from college. While in the office one day, my wife heard someone within the organization openly question a student’s ambition of going to a great school and being an accountant as if somehow these two things are mutually exclusive.
I don’t understand why he wants to go there. He could go to a state school and be an accountant.
The young man in question here happened to be Hispanic but you get my point. I’d also add this comment wasn’t made in front of the student, at least not this time but it certainly helps to provide an example of how certain notions get perpetuated across generations. After all, if someone working at an organization working to provide opportunities to the low-income, largely black demographic, imagine what kind of messages are being sent by the general public.
So what can you do about it?
Well I’m glad you asked. The most important thing you can do is foster an environment of sponsorship. While you won’t ever be able to convince me of there being a cultural difference in work ethic as noted above, I realize life can be different when you’re surrounded by people who don’t look like you and may not have some of the same life experiences as you. There’s no denying it. I lived that and continue to live it. Having a someone with a genuine interest in keeping you around, can go a long way. People will likely find they have more in common with their colleagues than they thought, skin color aside.
So if you see anyone (doesn’t just have to be a black person) in your firm who looks aloof and not quite fitting into the firm culture, look to become that person’s sponsor. Find a way to establish a relationship and see if you can’t be that difference that changes helps that person avoid a premature career change.
You’ll learn a lot. You’ll teach a lot. And the firm will be better off for it. Who wouldn’t want that?
If you want to bounce ideas on how to get this started, or want a sounding board before you take any action reach out to me. I’ll be a sounding board for the cause if nobody else will.
Diversity Inc also shares some thoughts on the topic here.
The National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) also has an advocacy program to foster the sponsorship I mentioned above, which you can read about here.
What am I going to do about it?
First, I have to take my own advice about being a sponsor. I’ll be honest with you – a few weeks ago I received a LinkedIn request that said we should connect because this club of black CPAs has very few members. I accepted the invite to connect with no hesitation. Call it what you will, but if the simple act of helping to create a critical mass in the social space helps grow this community I’m all for it.
The other thing I’m going to do is look for teaching opportunities so I can be the face in the room to show black accounting students (and anyone else who wants to listen for that matter) where you can go in this profession and more importantly that accounting is in fact sexy.
I’ve looked at different options in the past like teaching a Becker review course or getting involved with some of the local colleges in the area but didn’t find anything that made sense. But now that I’m moving to the bay area, the hunt is back on. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.
Complaints? Feedback? Questions? Leave them in the comments section below.
Oh and here’s a link again to the book that started it all for me. Enjoy.