Diversity in finance and accounting: Challenges and opportunities for Black History Month

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Black History Month is here, and with it comes an opportunity to reflect on how well we, as finance and accounting professionals, are doing to actively support diversity and inclusion initiatives in our field.

Celebrating the differences among all people with respect to age, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice or veteran status helps businesses learn new perspectives and understand differences. So how do we stack up against other industries? And what should firms be doing to attract a more diverse talent pool going forward?

Industry snapshot: Diversity in finance and accounting

Unfortunately, the high-level view of diversity in finance and accounting doesn't paint the most favorable picture. There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement.

For example, according to the most recent data from the AICPA, even as the number of overall candidates taking the CPA exam has increased, Black and African-American candidates today represent just 1 percent of CPA new hires. From there, the percentage of Black/African-American CPAs who go on to become partners in professional services firms is even less than one percent.

That same study shows figures for other underrepresented groups that aren’t exactly favorable, either. For example, Latino and Hispanic candidates constitute just 7 percent of CPA new hires. And of that 7 percent, only 2 percent eventually go on to become partners in professional services firms.

Even at a glance, it’s abundantly clear that finance and accounting firms need to take action today and be more proactive about attracting and hiring diverse candidates. But how should companies go about that? Let’s look at some best practices to find out.

Best practices: D&I hiring in finance and accounting

While lack of diversity remains a looming challenge at finance and accounting firms today, the good news is that, by acting strategically and getting started today, you can definitely move the needle on your diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals. Here are a few best practices to consider.

Track and measure the diversity of your team: This is an essential starting point. Only by clearly understanding where you stand today can you begin to make improvements — and evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts going forward. That’s why the first step is to partner with HR and drill down into the diversity of your existing workforce.

Tackle unconscious bias head-on: Unconscious biases are deeply ingrained and influence our behaviors and judgments in ways that we aren't even aware of. As such, they can have a determining influence on hiring outcomes — and they might even be limiting your ability to land more diverse talent. For these reasons and more, unconscious bias training is an increasingly standard part of the training curriculum at many best-in-class companies today. If your firm doesn’t currently offer unconscious bias training, consider making that an urgent business priority.

Nurture a more diverse accounting talent pipeline: This is the kind of bigger-picture, systemic approach to increasing diversity that is long overdue in finance and accounting. And while it probably won’t pay huge dividends right away, the long-term benefits will be significant. For instance, your firm might consider partnering with local colleges or associations to provide learning opportunities. Alternately, you could implement training, job shadowing or internship and apprentice opportunities. Any of these will help inject much-needed diverse talent into the pipeline.

Keep these three best practices top of mind as you go about planning your approach to D&I. Armed with these insights, you should be well positioned to start spearheading change.

For Black History Month, finance and accounting firms should commit to improving their D&I initiatives. This is something to take on right away because the state of the industry's diversity rates is far from good. That said, there are simple best practices companies can get started on today, which should have a far-ranging business impact — and move the needle on diversity — in both the short and long term.

Finally, if you’re really looking to stand out as a D&I employer of choice, consider formalizing your commitment to greater workforce diversity by taking a public pledge, like the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. It’s a smart way to ensure everyone on your team is aligned and on board, enabling you to better achieve your D&I goals.

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