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Author: Andy Goldstein, NASBA Electronic Media Specialist and Webmaster
Posted: January 17, 2013

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and as we prepare to observe and reflect on the important and amazing contributions Dr. King made toward the advancement of civil rights, it is important to illustrate how his message of diversity still impacts this nation, and particularly, the accounting profession.

In some areas of the accounting profession, diversity is already on the rise. According to the 2011 Trends in Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, minorities accounted for 25 percent of the new accounting graduates hired by CPA firms in 2010, an increase from 17 percent in 2001. The survey also found, however, that while minorities make up 20 percent of professional staff positions in firms, only 6 percent of firm partners are ethnically diverse.

In 2011, NASBA funded a research study with the purpose of examining the factors that contribute to the success or failure of minority accountants in relation to the Uniform CPA Examination. The study took specific looks at the African-American and Hispanic populations. According to a 2004 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) study, African-Americans make up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 3 percent of the CPA population. Similarly, Hispanics make up 16 percent of the overall population, but only 8 percent of CPAs.

The study concluded the reason for the dearth of minority CPAs seems to be an economic issue; minorities who attend high-priced private schools and can afford CPA review courses are more apt to pass the CPA Exam.

Speaking at NASBA’s 2012 Regional Meetings, Dale L. Flesher, Ph. D, CPA, one of the authors of the study, said there are also a lot of minority accounting graduates who aren’t necessarily CPAs, and that females are less likely than males to be CPAs among the minority groups.

“The question is, are those who are majoring in accounting and graduating in accounting, but not passing the CPA Exam, enjoying the full economic benefits that come with the CPA designation?” Flesher asked.

To boost the desire for the CPA credential, the study’s authors recommended colleges to reach out to the business community to create more internship opportunities for students, because working around other certified accounting professionals during the undergraduate program would enhance the motivation to become one.

One person who has been busy reaching out to the business community is NASBA President and CEO Ken Bishop. Bishop said he recently spoke with Manuel Espinoza, CPA, CEO of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA), to discuss areas of mutual interest and potential opportunities for future collaboration. Bishop also said he is planning similar talks with senior officials from the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and Ascend, the organization dedicated to the advancement of pan-Asians in management and leadership.

“Ultimately, I am trying to ascertain whether there is interest in meeting formally to discuss topics that will include recruitment, retention and promotion to partnership,” said Bishop.

Bishop is also working to increase diversity within NASBA’s leadership. In his President’s Memo from the September 2012 issue of NASBA’s State Board Report, Bishop wrote of his desire to increase diversity in the volunteer leadership of the organization.

“What I am challenging us all to consider is the culture of NASBA which has somehow failed to encourage women and minorities to aspire to, seek and hold NASBA’s highest office,” said Bishop. “NASBA is certainly not void of having strong women and people of color serving in key volunteer leadership roles… I believe this is a timely, fair and important discussion.”

In the State Board Report from December 2012, Bishop discussed the creation of a task force that will meet in New York to discuss the issue of diversity, and to make recommendations to NASBA’s Chair as to how to encourage and support diversity.

Recently, the Diversity Committee of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) released a paper on the business imperative for minority hiring and the strategies that can be used for minority recruiting and retention. In the paper, the PICPA Diversity Committee argues that with the changing demographics in the U.S., it is imperative for the business community to keep up with evolving population trends. The Committee notes, “Account teams that include members with varying backgrounds and experiences add a greater depth of understanding and knowledge to provided services.”

In September 2012, the AICPA announced the establishment of the National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion, a group whose mission is to serve as champions of diversity within the accounting profession. The formation of the Commission reflects a renewed focus on two major initiatives in accounting: expanding diversity and increasing the retention and advancement of underrepresented minorities.

The 15-member Commission is comprised of representatives from minority professional advocacy groups, CPA firms, state CPA societies, and leaders from business and industry, government, and education.

Almost half a century after his death, the words of Dr. King are still heard loud and clear. “As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” 

“Newly-Formed Group Aims to Increase Diversity in Accounting Profession” September 2012
“AICPA National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion”
“In Pursuit of Inclusion: New Initiative Will Focus on Racial Diversity” Ken Tysiac June 2012
“Increasing Talent, Clients, and Revenue at Your Organization” PICPA October 2012

Other Suggested Reading

Balancing the Numbers: The Story of Nathan Garrett

The Importance of Diversity in Accounting

Educator Calls for Greater Diversity in Accounting