Accounting has a diverse future

June 24, 2013

By Brendan Fitzgerald, CPA 2012-2013
Chair of the Executive Board

The CPA profession is making significant efforts to improve diversity and inclusion by hiring and retaining employees from the underrepresented classes of women and ethnic minorities.

We use the word “diversity” when describing the composition of firms and companies, the profession and the student population. Employers have created diversity initiatives or appointed managers to be in charge of encouraging diverse representation within our organizations – from entry-level positions, to the partner ranks in public accounting firms and prominence within the corporate hierarchy.

Employers implement programs centered on cultural awareness. But how effective are these programs if statistics support the notion that very little progress has been made in narrowing the gap in recent years?

The keys to achieving diversity within the accounting profession must begin with the realization that this issue isn’t about numbers. We can quote statistics on the number of minorities enrolled in bachelor’s programs as a percentage of undergraduate students and compare those numbers to the composition of our own organizations, but what does that really tell us, other than most of us are below average?

Women make up nearly half of the new accounting graduate hires in recent years but represent less than one quarter of the public-firm partner positions, and minority figures, both in terms of representation and leadership roles are even lower. The profession aspires to attract the best and the brightest, but how attractive are we to minorities? While we think we can offer the best chance for success, is the CPA profession perceived to be as attractive as medicine or law?

In addition to the many profession-wide issues requiring attention, we must also understand our individual biases. These are not institutional, but personal. Terms like “unconscious bias,” or “implicit bias” are used to describe the unreasoned judgments we all have. The fact that we are not aware of them is what makes them so hard to overcome. And even though bias is universal, it has a negative connotation. For someone to admit to bias takes courage. Rather than be fearful of repercussions, such self-awareness should be encouraged and applauded as the first important step toward change. Cultural or gender bias can be overcome only after we acknowledge its existence.

We must address the perception of our profession. In a profession dominated by white men, it is difficult to look through the door of the conference room or the board room and offer a reasoned argument that we are inclusive. We have a problem with representation at the highest levels that cannot be remedied quickly. Role models are critical to altering that perception, but if there is a dearth of candidates, where will the future role models come from? At the staff level, we must continue our efforts to encourage minority students to pursue a career as a CPA. It will take time to cultivate and encourage more minority students, but we must persevere. We cannot overlook the importance of peers and immediate supervisors in development along the way. Once on track, it will take mentors within organizations to support the effort by acting as coaches and advocates for underrepresented groups. Not all of us achieved success solely on our own merits; along the way we had someone champion our cause, which greatly contributed to our successful careers.

We must also be willing to listen and understand each other. How many times does poor communication lead to failure in an endeavor? The problem is often too little information being shared, not too much. When people are missing crucial information, they tend to fill in the blanks with their own suppositions. Lack of awareness about cultural differences leads to misunderstanding or incomprehension.

A panel comprised of women or minorities, or a combination, discussing the issues of diversity and inclusion would be very enlightening. It’s notable that what you are not hearing from these panels are arguments for lower standards for entry or promotion. All that is asked is that the same opportunities exist for all. In a profession that touts integrity as a pillar, we can do better.


Feedback from around Ohio at the Professional Issues Updates

June 24, 2013

Since April I’ve have the pleasure of traveling the state through the Professional Issues Update series. It’s been an educational and enjoyable experience to greet the more than 2,500 OSCPA members who’ve attended. They’ve provided valuable insight into the challenges CPAs face in 2013. And I’m finding it’s no small list.

I wanted to share some key observations formed from these group discussions and one-on-one conversations. During the PIUs, we conducted instant polling to get a better picture of issues commonly affecting CPAs’ businesses. Topping members’ list were increasing regulation and internal controls, leadership changes and employee retention, the economy, and health care reform.

Beyond those issues is the more important question of how can The Ohio Society of CPAs help members succeed in this swirling morass of business and environmental instability?

Take the economy, for example. On a scale of 1 to 5, CPAs’ confidence for sustained U.S. economic growth through 2013 was just 2.7. Not very optimistic, but understandable given the slow movement in Washington on issues most think will move the economy forward: slowing the deficit clock and enacting major tax reform.

Last month, I joined our Governmental Affairs team and 12 Ohio CPAs for the annual Legislative Fly-In. Over several days, we met with Ohio’s elected leaders who appreciated hearing directly how indecision in Washington caused headaches during tax season, and how laws and regulations are affecting Ohio businesses and individuals. We also urged their support of bills for mobile workforce rules and tax due date simplification. Finally, we again offered CPAs’ help to simplify our tax code.

We’ll continue to watch the developing controversy around IRS overreach, and will seek to offer our members’ experiences where appropriate.

Health care reform is the two-ton elephant in the room at every business meeting this year. CPAs continue to prepare for a new system even as it is still taking shape. OSCPA is committed to being your partner in the implementation and beyond, offering education and valuable resources to help CPAs prepare to guide their own organizations and clients.

Increasing regulatory obligations is one area OSCPA is weighing in on. We have worked closely with Lt. Governor Mary Taylor and the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) to identify red tape in Ohio that is slowing business growth. When new or revised accounting standards are released for public comment, OSCPA’s various committees are quick to weigh in on behalf of all Ohio CPAs.

Building effective controls at all levels in an organization is an unfortunate byproduct of increased regulation. But it’s also an opportunity for CPAs to lead by developing new controls, improving existing ones and ensuring accountability. OSCPA continually seeks the best experts in the business to conduct educational sessions on this growing topic.

Retaining a talented workforce is a key concern of CPAs today. We’re competing with a smaller student talent pool for the best and the brightest to fill our future ranks. CPA societies must act quickly and creatively to ensure a steady pipeline for the future. OSCPA now has Student Ambassadors promoting the CPA profession on 15 Ohio college campuses. We’ve increased the number of ASPIRE! community college minority recruiting programs we hold yearly and we were the first state CPA society to partner with the AICPA this May on a regional workshop for college students.

I appreciate your candor during the PIUs, and I’m thrilled by the high level of engagement and passion Ohio CPAs have shown on the issues that matter. Working together, we will continue to make a difference.

Scott D. Wiley, CAE
President & CEO
The Ohio Society of CPAs
614.764.2727 x 305 (office)
Twitter: @ScottDWiley

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