AICPA: Accounting for Diversity

Accountancy firms might be able to balance revenue and taxes, but they’re not as skilled at keeping their own diversity in check.

That’s why the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or AICPA, announced the release of two diversity and inclusion tools, which are free to CPA firms across the country.

The first is a maturity model that surveys firms about their workplace, workforce, community and supplier diversity, then uses the answers to place them at one of four diversity levels: foundational, enlightened, integrated and optimized. Along with the result comes a guide to how to get to the next ranking.

The second tool is a recruitment and retention tool kit that delineates best practices and helps leaders understand that culture plays a huge role in attracting candidates to apply for a job, let alone take one.

These initiatives are the result of the AICPA’s National Commission of Diversity and Inclusion, a group that formed about two and a half years ago and looks to attract more minorities and women into accounting.

“Our team set out to really source the best practices that are out there,” said Kim Drumgo, AICPA’s director of diversity and inclusion. “We came up with laundry list and tailored that list to meet the needs of the accounting profession because we realized one size does not fit all.”

The tools the group developed are intended for mid-sized and large firms, but Drumgo said organizations of any size can still benefit. Although this first wave is focused on ethnic minorities, it’s just the beginning of a series of initiatives planned by the AICPA to boost diversity in gender, sexuality and veteran status.

“As America continues to brown, the profession is not moving with the demographics,” said Sherry Davis, a director in corporate audit services for Eli Lilly & Co. in Indianapolis. “Part of the challenge we’re running into is as the demographics of the customers change, their demands of wanting someone who understands them from a cultural and business standpoint, who understands their customer base, the accounting industry isn’t keeping up with that.” 

Now that there are growing business ramifications for having a predominately white male industry, firms are starting to look more into how they can incorporate minorities. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t caused by just an issue in recruitment or retention.

Julius Green, president-elect of the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, said the first is that women join the profession at an equal rate as men but tend to leave before being promoted to higher roles, possibly because they decide to start families and aren’t offered the right work-life balance to be able to hold a position and raise a child at the same time.

The second is that minorities don’t join the industry at all. “Traditionally the accounting profession has not recruited minorities as aggressively in a way to enable the needle to move in ethnic diversity,” Green said.

Minority students also see the field as being lily-white and unaccepting of them — they don’t see any accountants with similar origins and therefore see the position as unattainable. Others see accounting as undesirable. Davis said the right exposure for potential CPAs can introduce them to the lesser-known sides of the business. It’s not just punching numbers into a calculator, and Davis knows this first hand — her job has had an international focus that includes travel.

“This is the first that I’ve seen of this type of sustained and meaningful effort and endorsement and approach by an organization as well-respected as AICPA,” Green said. Firms that are unaware of their diversity problems now have a national leader pointing them in the right direction.

Even though this new initiative set will bring more national awareness to diversity and inclusion, it’s actually behind compared to some of what’s being done at a state level.

Pennsylvania’s institute released similar guides two years ago. A few states over, the Indiana CPA Society runs the five-year-old INCPAS Scholars Program, which introduces minority high school to aspects of the industry. Davis, who serves on the Diversity Task Force of the society, said participants undergo a year-long series of events that teach everything from the environment of an accounting firm to must-know business etiquette.

One of the program’s first participants is about to graduate with his accounting degree, and there are 38 others in college, poised to go into the field. “When we get our first CPA, I might do a backflip,” Davis said.