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Centennial Countdown

Responsibility to Embrace Diversity

By Bert N. Mitchell
October 2005

In his inaugural address in October 1968, AICPA chair Ralph Kent noted that the time had come to integrate the CPA profession in fact and not merely in ideal. This challenge came well after the AICPA had celebrated its 70th anniversary, and still there were less than 150 black CPAs in the entire country. Until then, there had been almost no consciousness on the part of the profession of a social responsibility to embrace diversity. Now that we are well into our second century, we must evaluate how well we have risen to the challenge and to what extent we are committed to diversity as a social responsibility.

Today, more than 50% of the new entrants to our profession are women, a reality that not even the most visionary pre-World War II practitioner would have forecast. However, the norms of our society changed during the baby boom era. Now we face new realities with a more practical and less fearful stance. If our profession had not dropped the artificial barriers that impeded women, it would not be possible to meet its present staffing demands.

Most of our progress has been made as a result of economic necessity and much less so because of ideals. However, if we are to fulfill our public trust, we must seriously commit ourselves to the social responsibility of diversity in our professionnot only at the entry level but at the leadership levels as well. We must become much more proactive in increasing the participation of ethnic minorities, thereby making our profession more representative of our population overall.

The CPA profession, like the corporate community, has become concentrated over the last quarter of a century; this is evident in the fact that the four largest firms represent more than 75% of the revenues derived by the entire profession. Moreover, there is only a slight representation of ethnic minorities in the leadership ranks of these firms. Of the more than 8,000 partners in the Big Four combined in the United States, less than 100 are African Americans and even fewer are Latinos, at a time when these two ethnic groups represent more than 25% of our population.

Yes, one can point out that the CPA profession is not alone in such paucity of diversity, but it certainly has not been a champion of diversity either. Ralph Kent challenged the profession to de facto integration, but there is an apparent lack of commitment to the ideal.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Journal of Accountancy and cope with the many new realities required of us as professionalsespecially the responsibilities under the law we accept as we provide services to our clientslets remember that a profession that does not commit itself to full opportunity for all the major segments of our society denies itself the full potential of that most precious resource that fuels its enginehuman capital.

Bert N. Mitchell, CPA, is chairman & CEO of Mitchell & Titus LLP, the nations largest African American CPA firm. Mr. Mitchell has been active in the accounting profession and has served on the AICPA board of directors. He has been a frequent contributor to the JofA over the past 35 years.

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