For the past several months I have been addressing the future of the CPA profession, specifically focusing on how data analytics and artificial intelligence will impact practice, relevance and even the candidate pipeline. I am purposefully avoiding technology in this Memo as I know that, at upcoming NASBA meetings and conferences, the implications of technology will be a significant part of the agendas. The future of the profession, however, is much more about people than technology, and the importance of substantive diversity action is an imperative for a successful future.
In the proceeding sentence, I intentionally used the phrase “diversity action” versus “diversity discussion.” During my term as President and in past roles, I have had the privilege of working with many outstanding thinkers and leaders, and I have heard countless discussions about diversity − but have witnessed relatively few substantive actions. In the current hyper-politically correct (PC) environment, many thoughtful leaders hold back from having meaningful discussions about diversity for fear they will misstep, have their intentions misunderstood or misrepresented. This is not a favorable condition for meaningful action.
I have been fortunate to know some leaders who were not afraid of having robust conversations. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss the importance of diversity action with Frank K. Ross, the first national president of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). He was awarded the AICPA’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, was one of the first African-American partners of an international firm (KPMG), and is now a leader in academia at Howard University. I will never forget our conversation when we concurred that well-meaning individuals and organizations have been talking about diversity for decades, but unfortunately have inspired very limited action or material change. Hearing that conclusion from a true diversity pioneer amplified my determination to push for planning that produces action-driven results.
Another individual who is action and results-oriented is Bernard (“Bernie”) Milano, president of The PhD Project. Anyone who knows Bernie understands that political correctness will not get in the way of having a frank discussion when he hears excuses or resistance to diversity action. NASBA is proud to be a sponsor of The PhD Project as the measurable outcomes and successes of the Project fall squarely into our mandate of accountability.
I should take a moment to “toot NASBA’s own horn” as to successful diversity action. A look at NASBA’s Board of Directors, staff, and governance leadership clearly illustrates the results of efforts and actions we have taken. We know we have challenges in maintaining the successes we have achieved to date. NASBA’s leadership pipeline starts with Boards of Accountancy, and the Boards of Accountancy’s pipeline is dependent on the number of diverse people in the profession. That number is still dismally low when you consider the “browning” of America and the percentages of African-American and Hispanic-American CPAs in relation to the population, despite the years of discussions and efforts to attract diverse candidates. It seems that new grassroots action is needed to move the bubble.
When there are discussions about CPAs and CPA firm diversity, the context is usually about what the big or regional firms are doing. Yet across rural America there are thousands of small towns and cities where the local CPAs play a critically important role in their communities’ financial stability. I have visited many such firms and have rarely seen a person of color on the professional staff. I am certain that the void that I have witnessed was not because of prejudice or racism, but because there were virtually no CPAs of color available. What can we do to change that?
For years NASBA has participated in the Inroads program that has provided us with some excellent summer interns who are now valued members of our permanent full-time staff. We have also hired minority group members who learned about the CPA profession through working for NASBA and went on to pursue the training needed to become CPAs themselves.
What if, across America, local CPAs visited their local high school counselors and offered internships and employment to diverse students with math, business or IT acumen and interests, who probably have never considered working in an accounting firm? What if that internship was followed up by offering financial assistance for college, including summer employment, to those interns who demonstrate proficiency? Finally, what if that local firm offered a partnership-track position to the intern upon college graduation? As with any “what if” scenario, the ultimate outcome would depend upon many variables. However, actions always speak louder than words.
It’s the beginning of busy season and perhaps the right time to offer some new opportunities. Maybe, by adding some diverse faces to your staff, you will not only bring in added talent and support, but also some new clients who appreciate that diversity!
Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things).
— Ken L. Bishop
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