The accounting profession isn’t as diverse as it should be, particularly at the top. It hurts to say it, but it’s true. And in a country that’s getting more diverse every year, it’s important that the accounting field — a service profession, mind you, in which practitioners compete on merit to win clients — reflects the demographics of the society and businesses it serves.
The VSCPA is included in that analysis. Colette Wilson, CPA — a woman who knows a thing or two about the importance of diversity — served as VSCPA Board of Directors Chair in 2014–2015, becoming the first African-American woman to hold that post. She was only the third African-American to serve as chair, joining 2005–2006 Chair Doug Marshall, CPA, and 2011–2012 Chair Damon DeSue, CPA.
That means the VSCPA existed for just under a century before installing its first minority chair. As an organization and as a profession, we’ve got to do better. Listed below is what we’re doing now, both in the VSCPA and the profession at large. If you have ideas or insights on how to attract minorities to the profession and the VSCPA, we’d love to hear from you.
AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) formed its National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion (NCDI) with the following goals:
- To provide the profession with a sound business case for diversity and inclusion in the accounting profession.
- To recommend best practices playbooks on the retention and advancement of minorities in the profession.
- To increase communication and awareness of the business case, benefits, and efforts of diversity and inclusion in the accounting profession.
- To develop a profession-wide effort funded by the profession as a whole to help increase the number of underrepresented minorities entering the accounting profession.
The NCDI’s major initiative is its Pipeline Project, a profession-wide effort to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the accounting profession through outreach in diverse communities and educational institutions. This includes the Diversity & Inclusion Maturity Model, developed to help organizations understand where they are and how they can become more diverse.
While anyone can take advantage of this new VSCPA program, we hope it will be especially useful to young minorities seeking a foothold in the profession. MentorMatch allows young accountants to sign up and find a professional mentor to help them improve their professional skills and navigate their early careers.
It’s no coincidence that this program’s goals echo Colette Wilson’s sentiments — her experiences were a big inspiration for the program. She established a successful mentoring relationship with Aaron Rawlings, a young accountant with Alexandria firm Kearney & Co.
A strong mentor can help a young professional put down roots in a profession that places high demands on its youngest practitioners. Interested members can sign up for MentorMatch as a mentor or mentee.
MentorMatch is a component of LEAD, the VSCPA’s leadership development suite. And like MentorMatch, LEAD is not directed solely at minorities. But it’s a way for young professionals of all backgrounds to grow their expertise and leadership skills.
The centerpiece of LEAD is the VSCPA’s trio of leadership training events:
- Leaders’ Institute (for accounting students)
- Leadership Academy (for young professionals)
- Leaders’ Summit (for VSCPA current and future leaders)
Through those events and various other leadership and skill development opportunities, students and young CPAs can get a critical leg up in their career development.
Advocacy & Public Outreach
Another VSCPA tactic is to develop relationships with minority legislators in the Virginia General Assembly and partner with them to promote the CPA profession to minority students through interaction with successful CPAs. To advance that goal, the VSCPA is partnering with several such legislators to hold events in their districts for students and their parents centered on financial preparation for college. CPA experts will serve as discussion leaders at 2015 events in Richmond, Petersburg and the Hampton Roads area, with the goal of expanding across the state in the future.
College students can get a boost in their education through VSCPA Educational Foundation scholarships. While students can apply for any scholarship they’re qualified for, the VSCPA Minority Scholarship is aimed solely at ethnic minorities. It’s a great way for a minority student to help finance his or her education and make professional contacts.
Advancing the Discussion
The VSCPA is committed to increasing diversity in the accounting profession, and part of that is acknowledging and discussing the need. Wilson and VSCPA Chief Operating Officer Maureen Dingus, CAE, led a diversity session at the VSCPA’s Business & Industry Conference in May, continuing a discussion from last year’s VSCPA Professional Issues Updates that has continued at this year’s events.
And we want you to be a part of that discussion. As VSCPA Board of Directors member Henry Davis III, CPA, said:
“I believe that one of the major factors in why minorities are not seeking the accounting profession is that the perception of what a CPA does versus reality is not clear. At the high school level, there is not a lot of exposure to what accountants do. Usually there is an introductory class for accounting, but that’s it. It appears that high school students do not see the value of becoming an accountant and obtaining a CPA license.
“Even though I am disappointed in the number of minorities currently in the profession, I see this as a great opportunity for the VSCPA to change this disappointing statistic into a success story.”
That’s where you enter the picture. If you’re a minority, you’re living proof that minorities have a place in the accounting profession. You can clear up misconceptions about the profession and provide an example for interested students to emulate. They want to hear your story and your ideas, and so do we. Comment on this article or email [email protected] to tell us your story!