Diversity and inclusion: Tips for moving the needle

By Ken Tysiac

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, believes it's time for the accounting profession to build on its focus on creating ethnic diversity and making an earnest effort to promote inclusion.

Ellison-Taylor, the vice chair of the AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, said the accounting profession through its recruiting processes has improved in attracting diverse people to the profession. But she said the profession also needs to work together to get diverse hires to remain in the profession.

"It's the consistent application of talent management processes and procedures such that every team member feels the same shared values and sense of purpose," Ellison-Taylor said Tuesday during a panel presentation on diversity and inclusion at the AICPA fall Council session. Council is being held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just 9% of partners at the firms participating in the AICPA's most recent Trends survey were nonwhite. Ellison-Taylor said diversity remains elusive at higher levels of the profession because ethnic minorities often don't feel at home in their work environments.

"We have to work on our team building," she said. "We have to make sure we work to build an environment where everyone fits."

Rich Caturano, CPA, CGMA, chair of the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, said during the presentation that the accounting profession has put a great deal of effort and resources into promoting diversity.

But he said the needle hasn't moved enough yet, particularly related to minority representation at senior leadership positions at CPA firms. Caturano sees the current reckoning on racial justice in the United States as an opportunity to make progress.

He said diversity and inclusion is at the top of the priority list now for CEOs throughout the nation. Getting social inequality on the radar is merely the first step in the process.

"We have to seize that opportunity now," Caturano said.

Crystal Cooke, the director for Diversity and Inclusion at the AICPA, said a professionwide approach is necessary to advance diversity and inclusion. The National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion is embracing that broad approach by reaching out to:

  • Students in an effort to develop a pipeline to the profession.
  • Educators to make sure they have the tools and resources necessary to help diverse students succeed in their efforts to join the profession.
  • Professionals who are focused on improving diversity and inclusion in the profession.
  • Employers that need help developing effective diversity and inclusion programs and in retaining employees in ethnic minority groups.

"You can't just look at one thing," Cooke said. "You have to look at the entire ecosystem."

For individuals who are committed to improving diversity and inclusion in the profession, tips from the panelists included:

  • Reach out to minority students before college. "I decided I was going to be a CPA in third grade because I was exposed to what CPAs do," Ellison-Taylor said. She said young children from ethnic minority groups emulate NBA players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry because of the athletes' visibility. "We have to get more exposure early," Ellison-Taylor said.
  • Have courageous conversations. A three-hour conversation with fellow National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion member Ken Bouyer helped Caturano understand Colin Kaepernick's reasons for kneeling during the National Anthem at NFL games during 2016 to protest social injustice and police brutality. "If we can get to a better understanding over an issue like that which so deeply divides us, I think anything is possible," Caturano said.
  • Become an ally. Those who aren't members of minority groups can provide support to those who need assistance. "If I can be an ally with them and help support them as a white man who's ended up in a leadership position…that's what I want to do," Caturano said.
  • Continue training. Leaders in the profession can make sure their teams receive training on diversity and inclusion issues such as unconscious bias and microaggressions and consider making it mandatory. "We can't change the world, but we can change our world," Ellison-Taylor said. "We can make a difference where we are."
  • Seek resources. The AICPA has numerous resources available, including the Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model and the Private Companies Practice Section Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit. For more information, visit aicpa.org/diversity.

Caturano said it's important for leaders to continue building on the current momentum and not get fatigued.

"We really have to stay at this," he said. "We have to really stay at this."

The AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion will present a forum titled "Courageous Conversations: A forum on diversity, inclusion and making a difference together," on Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. ET. For more information or to register, click here.  

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is the JofA's editorial director.

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