The American Institute of CPAs has created a National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion that has been working to address the disparities in representation of minorities in the accounting profession.

Members of the commission gave an update on their efforts Monday at the AICPA’s Spring Meeting of Council in Washington, D.C.

Ralph Thomas, executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs, pointed out that mentoring and sponsorships are an important factor in helping minorities advance at CPA firms. “We have to have sponsors who are willing to open doors, take risks, and lay down the political capital to make sure one is properly positioned in the organization,” he said. “We need people to step up and say it’s incumbent on me to make sure underrepresented minority populations have the opportunity.”

Ed Ramos of Dwyer, Pemberton & Coulson also emphasized the importance of having sponsors and mentors. After gaining several years of experience in the profession, he said he still he didn’t have any mentors or sponsors to help him advance. Then he discovered the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting.  “It opened my eyes to see that, wow, there were people like me,” he said. “I ended up crating a Seattle chapter for ALPFA.”

The panelists discussed the importance of having organizations like ALPFA, as well as the National Association of Black Accountants and Ascend, an organization for accounting and finance professionals with pan-Asian backgrounds.

Lisa Ong of PricewaterhouseCoopers recounted her experiences at AICPA events where she was the only Asian person in the room. When two Chinese students were at an event for young people, she said they immediately made a beeline to her. Another attendee asked them if this was the Asian corner of the room. Ong replied, “Yes, but if you look over there it’s the non-Asian corner of the room.”

Ong said she also experiences misunderstandings on airplanes where flight attendants will ask where she comes from. When she tells them Dallas, they don’t believe her.

George Krull of the AICPA Foundation pointed out that to be able to get the people who are going to be great client service partners, it is important for firms to attract great people in the profession, regardless of their background. He urged CPAs to expand their diversity efforts. “If we don’t take our foot off the first base, we’ll never get to second base,” he said.

AICPA director of diversity and inclusion Kim Drumgo, who is the vice chair of the commission, said the commission has created three task forces to identify best practices in various areas of the profession that accounting organizations can leverage. However, she asked the other panelists, once all the best practices have been implemented, “What does success look like for the profession?”

Krull replied that it will be when people see an influx of other people into the profession who look like them.

For more from the Spring Meeting of Council, see: 

• Melancon Keynote Highlights Transformation

• AICPA Votes to Allow Revised Definition of Attest Services

• AICPA Aims to Offer Credentials Overseas

• CGMA Exam Details Emerge

AICPA Aims for Greater Diversity in Accounting
CPAs Try to Get Congress to Do Something