Struggling for Traction on Diversity
Decades of effort have yielded underwhelming results
It’s a great time to be a young student entering the profession. According to the 2015 AICPA Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report, “Enrollment in accounting programs reached an all-time high” in the 2013-14 academic year, and hiring has reached record levels with a 7 percent overall growth in new hires.
Yet there’s one category in the accounting field where the numbers are a bit underwhelming: diversity. The same AICPA report claims that 62 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s graduates in the 2013-14 academic year were white, with only 11 percent Asian, 5 percent African-American, and 6 percent Latino, with “Other” rounding out the rest of the graduates at 16 percent.
A diverse profession is not a recent goal, but it’s one that still requires work. In response, a number of organizations and societies are tackling the challenge of introducing the necessity of diverse professionals to the industry, understanding that building a workforce more reflective of the general population will ensure the profession’s future and reach.
WHERE PROBLEMS ARISE
Over the last 10 years, minority enrollment into bachelor’s and master’s accounting programs has remained mostly stagnant. Per the AICPA’s 2015 Trends report: “As a percentage of bachelor’s and master’s enrollments, students categorized in the White race/ethnicity category decreased 10 percentage points … Nonwhite students increased 1 percentage point, while those reported in the Other race/ethnicity category increased 9 percent points.”
That means that even though the accounting profession’s conversation has grown significantly in the last decade, it has produced underwhelming results.
Jina Etienne, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants, believes that diversity scarcity has its roots early on in the education system.
“I think there’s a broader issue of financial literacy and understanding of accounting among some groups of minorities,” she said. “Some of that’s cultural, but as long as K-12 education doesn’t reinforce math and key elements of financial literacy, some minority communities will continue to struggle.”
Kim Drumgo, director of diversity and inclusion at the AICPA and vice chair of its National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, echoed the need for an earlier introduction to the accounting profession and the key skills needed therein. “Recent focus groups that the AICPA has administered regarding the awareness of the accounting profession in diversity communities indicate that a career as a CPAs isn’t as widely known or discussed as an aspiration in a majority of African-American or Latino homes as compared to other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professions,” Drumgo said. “The depth and breadth of the accounting profession and the vast opportunities that exist are simply not as well-known as other prestigious professions like doctors and lawyers by either these students or their influencers.” Read more on Accounting Today.