Accounting profession responds to George Floyd killing and anti-racism protests

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Accounting firms, state CPA societies and national accounting organizations are addressing the wave of international outrage and demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, by four Minneapolis police officers.

“Like so many in our community, I have been deeply affected by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ongoing protests in our country,” wrote Massachusetts Society of CPAs president and CEO Amy Pitter, in a newsletter Friday to members. “The MSCPA represents more than 11,000 members from many races, cultures, creeds, and ethnicities. The society denounces all forms of racism and hatred and remains committed to a mission that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racist practices. Incidents and injustices like the killing of George Floyd are jarring and heartbreaking, and, unfortunately, happen all too often when once is too much.”

The MSCPA has partnered with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion to take steps to address racism in the workplace, including launching a leadership series to hold conversations about diversity in accounting firms and what leaders should do to create cultures of inclusivity.

Pitter told Accounting Today that she believes more firms need to be open to these kinds of conversations about race.

“In the training at CEO Action, the first thing people dealt with was getting in touch with their unconscious bias and believing that’s really a thing,” she said. “I believe that’s really matured. I think the next front that maybe hasn’t matured so much is the concept of having an uncomfortable conversation. I think the George Floyd protests are challenging that in a good way. What you’re seeing is people recognizing that the only way they can make a difference now with their staff is to do the things around having uncomfortable conversations. It’s a big issue. It’s not just a sentence. To do that, you have to start with a lot of leadership. You have to have firm leaders and firm management, the whole team, saying it’s safe here. We can have these conversations here, and we can suspend our right to be offended. You can say the things that are hard to say, and we will make a space for you to have those conversations.”

Massachusetts isn’t the only state addressing the issue. The Ohio Society of CPAs released a statement from its president and CEO, Scott Wiley, across its social media channels this week.

“The Ohio Society of CPAs takes seriously its leadership in elevating the importance of diversity and inclusion in advancing not just our profession, but also the state of business in Ohio and beyond our state’s borders,” he wrote. “The values each of us holds individually and those we have collectively, combined with our proactive and shared commitment to assuring the CPA profession does all that is possible to be welcoming and inclusive, guide our work together. Ohio’s CPAs embrace the responsibility we have as America’s most trusted business advisors to not sit on the sidelines, but to be deliberate in our drive toward change. We recognize that social injustice and racism harm people and our ability to make economic opportunity accessible for all. We can do more — and we will — to bring a strong message of anti-racism to CPAs and to the business community.”

New York State Society of CPAs CEO and executive director Joanne S. Barry released a statement Monday calling for NYSSCPA members to stand together. “We as Americans and New Yorkers are currently experiencing a great sense of loss, fear and pain,” she wrote. “Systemic racism against Black people has pervaded our country for over four hundred years. They have long been targets of discrimination, where they are fearful for their lives, simply because of the color of their skin. With the collective voice of our organization and the CPA profession, with reach across the state of New York and beyond, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to make a difference.”

She highlighted several programs that introduce students of color to the CPA profession, train them, and educate members on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Barry also noted she has signed the CEOs for Action & Diversity pledge, where she has committed the NYSSCPA to staying and further becoming as diverse and inclusive as possible.

The California Society of CPAs issued a statement Monday. “CalCPA recognizes that no professional organization is immune from the responsibility of contributing to a more fair, equitable and just society,” wrote CalCPA president and CEO Anthony Pugliese. “That responsibility starts by looking inward, to ourselves individually — and as an association. CalCPA's volunteer leadership and Executive Team unequivocally condemn all forms of racial discrimination and the injustices they perpetuate. We believe it is paramount that all CalCPA members have confidence in our firm commitment to fostering an accessible and inclusive environment where diversity and equality thrive as fundamental values of our organization.”

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy emailed a statement Wednesday taking a stand against racism.

“The recent deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked an awakening in our country,” said the statement signed by NASBA president and CEO Ken Bishop and chief ethics and diversity officer Alfonzo Alexander. “Many are hurt, angered and even fearful after seeing videos of these senseless, murderous acts. At NASBA, we too are bothered by these activities. As an organization that cares deeply for our entire NASBA family (employees, members and strategic partners), we are committed to standing against systemic racism alongside our African-American family and friends. It is of utmost importance to NASBA that our African-American employees, whom we treasure, know that we support and care for them. We believe it is no longer acceptable for any of us who disagree with racist behavior to be quiet bystanders or to ignore the unjust behavior plaguing our nation. The recent incidents are extreme cases of a broader, systemic issue in our society. If we are being honest with ourselves, we have seen incidents in business or other areas of life, where people were treated unfairly, because of their race. We should do everything within our ability to end this injustice.”

While not directly related to the George Floyd killing and protests, the Institute of Management Accountants released a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Toolkit, created by the IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. It includes best practices for assessing a company’s current efforts in D&I, questions to ask before embarking on a D&I initiative, rules of engagement, and KPIs and metrics that can be used to measure D&I efforts.

“Diversity and inclusion should be ongoing at organizations and continue to innovate and evolve,” said Karmin Bailey, a member of the IMA D&I Committee and the primary author of the D&I Toolkit, in a statement Wednesday. “The D&I Toolkit is designed to be a starter pack or a checkpoint for companies looking to take the next step in not only recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion, but making it a larger part of its strategic plan as well.”

Firm leaders speak out

A number of firms and their leaders have also issued statements this week addressing racism in the wake of the protests over Floyd’s killing, which came shortly after several other high-profile incidents where other unarmed black people were killed by police.

“I am writing this because I am heartbroken by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the countless other black individuals before them,” PwC US chair and senior partner Tim Ryan wrote on his LinkedIn page. “I am also deeply frustrated by the racism that still exists in this country. Although I am not a member of the black community, this issue is still personal to me. I co-founded the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion in response to the killing of unarmed black men in the summer of 2016. Two years later, in 2018, we lost a member of our PwC community, Botham Jean, to this same kind of violence and I witnessed the pain his family had to — and still has to — endure over the loss of their son and brother. Over the past week, I have heard from thousands of people, from PwC and elsewhere, and have come to a greater understanding of the hurt, anger, and exhaustion that the constant threat of violence and oppression takes on the black community. And while I acknowledge that it is not the job of our black colleagues to teach the rest of us what to do, I am grateful for how many of them have stepped forward to not only share their pain, but also their ideas, with me. I am also inspired by how many of our people from all backgrounds want to be part of the solution.”

Deloitte US CEO Joe Ucuzoglu and chair Janet Foutty released a statement on the firm’s website. “We have heard from many of you — sharing your personal experiences with systematic racism and bias, feedback on our firm’s culture, including ideas on how we can improve racial injustice and bias especially with the black community, and suggestions on calls to action for Deloitte to lead the changes in society that we all want to see. As the leaders of our firm, we are not only actively listening, we are committed to action. [On June 5], we will come together as a Deloitte community to honor the victims of racial injustice, and to learn, listen and start exploring and defining ideas of concrete actions we can take as an organization to positively impact change. We know that we do not have all the answers, which is why we seek your direct input and engagement.”

Deloitte hosted two webcasts in the morning and afternoon to give its employees a moment to reflect on and honor the victims of racism and racial injustice, they noted, and is hosting small group conversations starting Friday and in the next few weeks to give employees a chance to share their experiences and concerns.

Grant Thornton CEO Brad Preber also spoke out in a statement on the firm’s website. “Grant Thornton has been shocked and saddened by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the civil unrest that has followed in cities around our country,” Preber wrote. “While many of us cannot truly understand the depth of frustration and anger our black teammates, friends and neighbors are feeling, we do know racism and injustice when we see it. The killing of George Floyd is only the latest chapter in a shameful history of unequal treatment of black people in the U.S., and it should offend every American who believes in the founding ideals of our nation. At Grant Thornton, we have been working to build a diverse and inclusive firm and culture in a broad variety of ways. We will accelerate and intensify this work going forward. The charge for action is inescapable, and it falls to all of us.”

BDO USA CEO Wayne Berson issued a statement on their website. “Like so many of you, I’ve spent the last few days attempting to grapple with recent events — the unfathomable death of George Floyd and far too many others, the clashes between protestors and police across the country — all while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionally impact people of color and threaten us all,” he wrote. “The injustices facing the black community are intolerable and deeply troubling. As a country, we are facing a frightening discord that has shaken us all to our core. Having grown up during apartheid in South Africa, I am all too familiar with the dangers and disastrous effects of inequality and persecution based on the color of one’s skin. For this reason, I long ago made a commitment to myself to do what I can to break down the barriers that divide us and prevent us from reaching the shared greatness we are capable of. The issues we face as a nation are deep and profound, but we must work together to make a difference.”

RSM US managing partner and CEO Joe Adams wrote about how he met with many of the firm’s national and regional leaders to discuss the events in Minneapolis. “The tragic death of George Floyd and subsequent events precipitated the meeting, as it brought to the forefront the racism, violence and fear members of our African-American community experience,” he wrote. “During the meeting, I also heard unsettling stories about other communities, including the significant increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, I heard the pain that all of our CDI [culture, diversity and inclusion] leaders feel and that I share — for the victims; for all people who experience bias, inequity and racism; and for how these events are impacting our communities, families and friends. No one should have to live in fear. At RSM, we believe in the value of every person. Our culture embodies inclusiveness and understanding, and we denounce violence and discrimination of any kind.”

Marcum chairman and CEO Jeffrey Weiner issued a statement about the events as well. “The world has been a fragile and sometimes scary place since the coronavirus sequestered most of us (except essential workers) at home just about three months ago,” he wrote. “But the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers drove people out into the streets. People of all races are enraged and frustrated by the senseless death of Mr. Floyd, an African-American man who lost his life while being restrained by the knee of a white police officer on his neck. Mr. Floyd’s death was a stark reminder of the systemic racism that exists in this country — a reality that faces many of our fellow Americans every day of their lives. This has to change, and my hope is that once the unrest subsides, we’ll see some real improvement in a situation that has gotten far too little attention over the years.”

CohnReznick CEO David Kessler weighed in with a statement Saturday on the firm’s website. “Systemic failures. Voices unheard.Responsibilities neglected. These are the truths that haunted me this week as I reflected on the details of George Floyd’s death and the tipping point of pain it became for our country,” he wrote. “As I told our employees at the start of the week, we can’t remain silent because we all take responsibility for this. The injustices experienced by Black Americans must end and that calls for leadership from all facets of our society, including corporate America. CohnReznick will step up and help lead. You have my commitment, and that of our entire partnership, that we will do better — as an employer, a corporate citizen, and an economic influencer. We will use our positions of privilege — first to listen — and then to work to change the systems, norms, and biases that create and sustain inequality and injustice for people of color.”

AAFCPAs managing partner Carla McCall offered to accommodate leave requests for employees who want to take time to attend Black Lives Matters protests. “No matter how uncomfortable it may be for some to admit, the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and so many others is affecting our black colleagues most,” she wrote on the Massachusetts firm’s website. “They show up every day, while hiding their fear, sadness, and rage. Please know, if you want to talk, I will listen. If there is anything I can do to help you heal, I will try. I have been encouraged by black colleagues to encourage team members to reach out to them and check in. “

Tonneson + Co., another Massachusetts firm, issued a statement on social media. “Tonneson + Co. stands firmly against racism, bias, and unequal treatment,” wrote president and CEO Richard Mastrocola. “Our firm is dedicated to promoting diversity, inclusion, and equality. We fully support the black community and all people of color, not just at this pivotal time in our history, but always.”

MSCPA president and CEO Amy Pitter forwarded many of these statements to Accounting Today. “I have been reaching out to leaders in our profession locally, and I’ve been reading powerful statements by national leaders, and this has led me to believe that this time will be different,” she wrote to her members. “Each of these leaders has put our powerful and unequivocal statements that racism and racial injustice exist and that we stand firmly against it. Each of these leaders have put their money where their mouths are in donating to organizations that fight racial injustice. Each of these leaders is working to create safe spaces in their organizations to have the uncomfortable conversations we need to have about race to create the kind of diverse workspaces that are essential to our profession. Finally each of these leaders is working hard to educate themselves and their staff about the issues of racial injustice, because understanding is the key to overcoming. Firms of all sizes are doing this, and it’s this kind of honesty and determination that makes me hopeful this will be the true turning point in combating racism in our society. There is much to be done, and the time to act is now.“

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Diversity and equality Practice management NASBA PwC Deloitte KPMG Grant Thornton BDO USA RSM