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Author: Ryan Hirsch, NASBA Multimedia & Video Services Manager
Posted: February 7, 2012

As America focuses on the achievements of African Americans during Black History Month, NASBA seeks to highlight their accomplishments within the accounting profession, while also identifying current opportunities for growth. A report by the Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession (ACAP) revealed that, in 2007, only 7% of CPAs were minorities. This statistic is one that strikes home and continues to motivate former NASBA Chair, Nathan Garrett.

During NASBA’s most recent Annual Meeting, Garrett spoke about the challenges he faced while trying to break into the accounting industry. In 1957, despite receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Yale, maintaining an “A” average throughout graduate school, and serving two years in the United States Military, Garrett found himself unable to obtain a position within a regional or national accounting firm. He was told that clients would object to an African American, and they would not be able to utilize his services.

Disappointed, but not defeated, Garrett ultimately found employment in a private firm in Detroit owned by Richard H. Austin, the first African American in Michigan to earn the CPA designation. Under the tutelage of Austin, Garrett gained valuable experience and eventually became the fifth African American CPA in the state of Michigan. He later moved back to his hometown of Durham, North Carolina and opened the first black-owned accounting firm in the state. Throughout his career, he continued breaking down barriers and promoting positive changes. In 2008, he was honored by the NASBA Center for the Public Trust as a Being a Difference Award recipient for his monumental work promoting ethical leadership and diversity.

Nathan Garrett’s story is one of pride, determination and perseverance. Through his current work as an author, public speaker and community volunteer, he continues to transcend the limitations that were previously applied to African Americans, while also promoting fairness and equality for all minorities, regardless of religion, gender or ethnic origin. Today, some of the largest national accounting firms that once turned him away, are now implementing minority recruitment programs designed to attract a diverse group of qualified candidates to their organizations.

The U.S. Department of Treasury supports this initiative, and its ACAP subcommittee report recommended a push toward ensuring that the demographics of the profession reflect the ethnic diversity of the global economy. Garrett and others like him are pioneers who provided the impetus for this type of professional and social change within the accounting community. Watch the video below and hear Garrett share his remarkable and historic journey.

Treasury Committee Suggests Professional Priorities” 5/8/08
ACAP Report” (VI:7 – VI:17) 10/6/08
Being A Difference” 2008

Other Suggested Reading

Movement Afoot to Increase Diversity in Accounting Industry

Educator Calls for Greater Diversity in Accounting