Diversity in tax and accounting firms

Practice Management Diveristy in firms

The racial divide in this country has been heavily publicized in the last few weeks, making members of the tax and accounting community ask, “How can I be a better ally to my Black and Brown colleagues?”

As a Black woman, I want to offer you my perspective on how I believe you can help. Please understand I am not an expert on diversity and inclusion, but I’ve personally experienced racism in a corporate environment. I also want to point out my opinion is monolithic and therefore does not speak for all people of color.

After tons of conversations with firm owners across the country, I know and understand that a lot of firms struggle with hiring, especially hiring diverse talent. A Bloomberg Tax article in July 2019 reported that roughly nine percent of all 1.9 million accountants and auditors in the United States were Black.

I often hear that firm owners don’t know where to find qualified diverse candidates – and when they do finally find them, the pool to choose from is quite small. In addition, the potential candidate usually isn’t a good fit for the role in question.

This can be discouraging, but this outcome is the result of looking in the same old and familiar places. It’s time to expand your horizons and to try something different, especially if your goal is to truly diversify your firm. Here are several ways to do that.

Look at your beliefs. Before you make any decisions about hiring diverse staff, I recommend you and your team start with internal bias testing. Understanding what biases are currently present in the people who your potential new hires will be working for (and with) can help you create training and remove any potential barriers to entry for people of color in your firm.

Using the testing data to build a continuous training program to eliminate the diversity and intersectional issues discovered will ensure the culture in your firm shifts to becoming a more welcoming environment for minorities.

Look at your current team. Do you currently have Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC)? Now may be a good time to take a good look at how these groups are progressing in your firm. Have they been stuck in the same positions for years? Maybe it’s a good time to reevaluate their history in your firm. Do they need additional training? Have they been unintentionally passed over for promotion due to the internal biases that were revealed in your firm after testing? Now is the time to chat with them one on one, and ask what you as a firm could do better to help them flourish.

If they are considering professional designations such as a CPA, EA, and others, think about offering study courses and testing fees as a benefit. The AICPA’s Accounting Graduates Supply and Demand Report shows a decline of 13 percent in diverse staff who aren’t CPAs. However, the cost of earning these designations can be expensive – and lacking one of these prestigious designations could also be used as a barrier from being promoted in the profession. Helping minimize this financial burden not only improves the caliber of staff in your firm, but also helps to diversity the accounting community as a whole.

Once they have passed the exam and have those letters behind their name, consider extending the fringe benefit to cover the cost of membership in a professional organization such as the AICPA or the National Association of Enrolled Agents, and encourage participation at the local and national level. Encouraging participation not only helps the accountant learn to become an active voice in the profession; the profession now gets the benefit of hearing and learning from the perspectives of people of color.

An additional side effect of being actively engaged in these professional organizations is allowing the BIPOC to feel confident enough to start teaching and sharing their knowledge in your firm, as well as at conferences and events. This enables them to have a larger impact on the profession.

Look for potential. Another way you can help is by creating a “reach back” program at your firm. Instead of looking for candidates to hire, help create the next generation of accounting hires by reaching out to colleges and universities in your area, and helping to inspire the next graduating class of accounting students.

Some college campuses already have established minority accounting clubs and organizations, including the National Association of Black Accountants. Consider offering to be a guest speaker or lecturer, offering paid summer internships to their best and brightest members, and hiring seniors straight out of college. Don’t be afraid to reach out to general business majors. Sometimes, they just need to see the passion from someone in our profession to understand why we love it so much.

Once you have the new diverse hire in your firm, invest in their growth. Set up a mentorship/pipeline program with the goal of moving the new hire from staff accountant into more senior and executive leadership roles. Check on their progress and don’t let them fall through the cracks. Catch internal issues early, before they have had time to fester, and show your BIPOC staff you value them and that you are truly an ally.

Be bold and act now

With a plan in place, you will create the opportunities you want to see exist in your firm, and your actions will encourage other firms to take a good look at their own diversity. Don’t be afraid to become the model for change that our profession needs. We all benefit from a positive shift in company culture.

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