The accounting profession, much like many other sectors, has grappled with diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion (DEBI), striving to establish a representative workforce. Despite an increase in nonwhite students pursuing accounting studies, the transition to actual employment in accounting roles has not mirrored this growth. Although the diversity of accounting graduates has shown positive trends, the same cannot be said for the hiring landscape within CPA firms, revealing a pressing need for comprehensive changes in this field.
A report from the AICPA's 2019 Accounting Graduates Supply and Demand Report highlights the concerning statistics. While 42% of accounting graduates in the 2017-2018 school year were nonwhite, a commendable increase from 32% in 2006-2007, nonwhite graduates only represented 30% of new hires in accounting or finance roles in 2018. This marginal rise contrasts starkly with the demographic breakdown, illustrating that 84% of CPAs in accounting or finance functions in 2018 were white, with white individuals holding 91% of partner roles.
Clearly, the accounting profession needs a more diverse representation to align with national demographics and to actively propel DEI initiatives and education. Beyond the moral obligation of providing equal opportunities, there are tangible business advantages to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce. This article delves into the various reasons for prioritizing diversity in accounting, how firms can support DEI initiatives, and the meaningful impact of instituting DEI practices.
Understanding DEI: Beyond Diversity
Before exploring the significance of diversity in accounting, it's crucial to comprehend the scope of DEI. Diversity extends beyond race, ethnicity, and gender, encompassing various factors such as religion, culture, sexual orientation, language, educational background, and skills. However, diversity initiatives alone are insufficient; they must be complemented by inclusion initiatives, like DEI courses, to be truly effective.
In essence, diversity involves the "who" and the "what," whereas inclusion is the "how." While a diverse workplace incorporates individuals from various categories, inclusion creates an environment where everyone is not only present but also welcomed and respected, fostering a culture in which everyone can thrive authentically.
The Importance of DEBI in Accounting
Why is diversity in accounting crucial? DEBI policies ensure workplaces include individuals with diverse personal histories, perspectives, and opinions. This inclusivity equips accounting firms to respond more effectively to the needs of an increasingly diverse clientele. Diverse teams are better positioned for new business opportunities due to their broader market knowledge, foreign language skills, and cultural sensitivity, as stated in the CPA Journal.
Research corroborates the positive impact of diverse perspectives on business outcomes. McKinsey & Company's 2020 "Diversity Wins" report reveals a strengthening correlation between diversity on executive teams and financial outperformance over time. Companies with gender-diverse executive teams in the top quartile were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability, while those with ethnic and cultural diversity in the top quartile outperformed peers by 36% in terms of profitability. Furthermore, boards in the top quartile of gender diversity were 28% more likely to outperform financially.
The Business Impact of DEBI
Embracing DEBI principles in accounting can lead to superior decision-making compared to environments where input predominantly comes from those with similar perspectives. The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce include increased productivity, higher levels of creativity and innovation, a broader talent pool, lower turnover rates, an expanded customer base, and an enhanced reputation. Companies that actively commit to DEI are seen as socially responsible, potentially unlocking more business opportunities.
Initiating DEI Continuing Education
Acknowledging DEBI as a company-wide goal is essential, and while leadership plays a crucial role, individual participation is equally vital for success. Accountants and prospective CPAs should prioritize education on DEBI-related topics. A DEI course enables students to:
- Grasp the business challenges involved in DEBI.
- Identify and understand unconscious biases.
- Recognize barriers to diversity and develop strategies for inclusivity.
- Acquire skills for recruiting diverse professionals.
- Understand the positive business results associated with a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Vishal’s DEBI CPE certificate is a comprehensive program led by diversity thought leaders in the HR and finance space. This five-course, 12-credit program is applicable to professionals across industries. It introduces the benefits of incorporating DEBI into the workplace, addresses common barriers to success, and provides practical steps for creating a culture of inclusivity.
The past year and a half have underscored the importance of diversity and inclusion, making DEI continuing education essential. It is the key to understanding both the cultural considerations and real-world benefits of DEBI, making the accounting profession an integral part of the solution. By investing in DEI education, accountants contribute to fostering an inclusive future within the profession and beyond.