Dispelling 4 myths that shroud diversity and inclusion

By Kim Nilsen

Four stubborn myths have clouded some of the discussion of diversity and inclusion in accounting, Rich Caturano said Tuesday in a speech to the AICPA governing Council.

While progress has been made in recent years, those common misconceptions are keeping some firms stuck in neutral when it comes to diversity.

Caturano made diversity and inclusion his major strategic initiative during his 2012–2013 term as AICPA chairman. He is now the national leader of culture, diversity, and inclusion for McGladrey. He is also the incoming chairman of the AICPA’s National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion.

Speaking to Council from his own perspective, he sought to dispel the myths that he thinks are hindering progress.

Myth 1: The pipeline is not diverse

Some firm leaders say they would love to hire more minorities but can’t find them. “And what I found about that myth was there’s some truth to it. We need to do some work in the pipeline,” Caturano said. “But diversity does exist. We have a lot of diverse candidates.”

Caturano urged Council members to consider joining the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), and Ascend, a Pan-Asian organization for business professionals.

“We could all be members,” said Caturano, who joined all three. “You don’t have to be black or Hispanic or Asian to be a member of the organizations. I would encourage you to look at that.”

He said each organization’s annual conference draws about 2,000 professionals, students, and others. “I attended the conferences, and I found out that there are a lot of candidates, great candidates,” he said. “Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place.” He also encouraged firms that are not doing so already to consider recruiting at colleges with diverse student bodies.

Myth 2: There is no real return on investment to D&I

“The reality is that inclusion and exclusion are key components of a company’s culture—the personality,” Caturano said. “Performance is directly related to diversity and inclusion. Clients are asking firms to demonstrate more on diversity and inclusion.”

Myth 3: D&I requires too much effort, and we don’t have the resources

“If you don’t do something about it, it’s just not going to happen,” Caturano said. “Yes, it’s hard, but anything worth doing is difficult. … The AICPA has resources to help you on the diversity and inclusion journey.”

Among those resources is the Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model, which Caturano urged more firms to use. The model gives firm and business leaders an opportunity to perform a comprehensive, confidential self-assessment of their progress in fostering diversity and inclusion. The Recruitment and Retention toolkit highlights best practices for attracting, recruiting, and retaining a diverse workforce. And the monthly newsletter Inclusion Solutions curates top news on diversity and inclusion. The tools are available at aicpa.org/diversity.

The National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion is partnering with the Pipeline Working Group, led by Frank K. Ross, director of the Howard University School of Business Center for Accounting Education, on initiatives intended to reach out to underrepresented minority students at high schools and community colleges—as well as to their teachers, guidance counselors, and parents—to educate them about the CPA profession.

Myth 4: It’s difficult to compete with the Big Four’s recruiting of diverse talent

It’s a common refrain, Caturano said, that Big Four firms snap up all the diverse candidates.

“They do hire a lot of diverse talent,” he agreed. “They’re successful at it because they work at it. That hard work that they put in pays off.

“It can’t possibly be that all diverse candidates would do better in a Big Four accounting firm. Certainly, many of them would. But many of them would do better in smaller firms. And so we need to do something about promoting the benefits of working in smaller firms, and that’s something that I’ve seen happening.”

McGladrey recruits at the NABA, ALPFA, and Ascend conferences, he said. “Four years ago when I started on this journey, McGladrey did not attend the conferences.” This past year, working through the conferences, the firm interviewed 450 minority candidates, extended entry-level and internship offers to about 100 candidates, and had 50 to 60 candidates accept. “We’re competing with the Big Four successfully,” Caturano said, “because we’re doing it different.”

Getting unstuck

Caturano closed his presentation with a call to action for firms to do more. “I believe that, with respect to diversity and inclusion, we operate in a state of neutral,” he said. “Myself included, up until about four years ago. When you’re in a boat and you’re in neutral, you just kind of float with the current. You don’t really make a lot of progress when you’re in neutral.

“What we need to do as leaders is we need to step out of neutral and push that throttle forward and do something positive” about diversity and inclusion, he said. “And you can do that in your organizations. … Get out of neutral. Learn more about the business case. Learn more about what you can do to have a successful diversity and inclusion program,” he said. “You need to do something for your organizations to remain relevant.”

Kim Nilsen (knilsen@aicpa.org) is publisher of the JofA.

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