The “2021 Bloomberg Tax Diversity and Inclusion” survey was recently released, and I can honestly say I am not surprised at the results. Before I dive in, please note I am a Black woman in accounting, and these are my opinions based on my personal experiences in our industry.

Here are a few highlights from the survey:

  • Men make up the majority across roles with one exception: manager-level roles in corporate tax departments
  • The tax and accounting profession is not representative of broader US population demographics
  • The top challenge to advancing DE&I as identified by both accounting firm and corporate respondents: Limited pipeline for top talent to join my organization

The 169 accounting firms that responded to the survey have 100-plus employees and are more than $10 million in annual revenue.

Part of the reason these results do not surprise me is because on the surface the culture at firms of this size usually is not welcoming or inviting for people of color. Larger firms rarely recruit in places that are filled with diverse talent, such as HBCUs, so the current staff makeup can lend to an environment that, unbeknownst to management, is hostile to work in.

Being in situations like this can lead to microaggressions being thrown their way daily, and no one willingly wants to work in an environment like this.

Marketing materials such as websites and brochures could also highlight these diversity issues to potential employees that are doing their due diligence before applying for open positions at larger firms. Browsing thru some of the “About Us” or “Meet the Team” pages is very eye opening for an accountant of color who may aspire to a management role in their career. If they do not see anyone that looks like themselves, they could get the impression that they will not grow as a professional at the firm.

When I graduated from college more than 20 years ago, this was still the case. And it is disheartening to see that these diversity statistics have changed little since then. Society is becoming more diverse with each new generation, but accounting is not keeping up and it’s time to ask ourselves why?

There are tons of accountants of color in our industry, but many of them do not work for organizations such as the ones that were a part of this survey. A number of these accountants are building firms of their own that are non-traditional and that fully embrace DE&I because there is an accountant of color at the helm. They are empathetic to the needs of accountants of color and can provide that supportive, professional environment.

So, how can these larger firms attract and engage top tier talent that helps with their DE&I efforts? Here are a few ways I believe they can move the needle faster and further than they ever have before.

Understand Unconscious Bias

I suggest starting with unconscious bias testing for everyone in management or that has a hand in the recruitment process. Your company needs to ensure that qualified candidates are not being tossed to the side because of unconscious biases that are rearing their ugly heads along the recruiting process. You may need to rebuild your hiring process to eliminate any bias to help make more impartial decisions in your recruitment efforts.

Rebuilding the process and ensuring the management and recruiting team have had training to avoid sabotaging recruitment efforts allows your company to do things differently than you have done in the past. Maybe for your next round of hires, the firm specifically seeks candidates of color. Maybe attend job fairs at schools that are predominantly minority based. Or even hire recruitment firms that specialize in finding minority talent.

Ask Employees of Color

It also is a good idea to check in with your current employees of color. Ask them about their career goals and offer resources and/or training to help move them up the career ladder. Meeting with these current employees can help you discover issues you may not have known were there or give your employees the confidence to ask for opportunities they never believed you would consider them for.

In 2019, an AICPA survey found that only 2% of licensed CPAs are Black and only 1% of partners at firms are Black,” per the Journal of Accountancy. By holding these check-in meetings, you may discover that your employees have grander goals than you thought, and you could help not only advance their role in the company but also with professional goals that enhance the accounting profession as a whole.

Additionally, by checking in with your employees of color, you may discover there are other areas of focus beyond professional development that can be improved on. For example, a recent study from QuickBooks found that more than one in two Black respondents (54%) are making their well-being a higher priority this year because of the pandemic.

However, nearly a third (32%) said they cannot prioritize self-care as much as they would like. These are the types of insights firms should seek out, allowing them to better serve their employees.

Your company needs to ensure that qualified candidates are not being tossed to the side because of unconscious biases that are rearing their ugly heads along the recruiting process.

Value Diverse Perspective

Build a company culture that values diverse perspectives. Studies have shown that ethnically diverse leadership teams are 36% more likely to be profitable, according to an article on Sapling. Ask your employees of color for their opinion or advice in advancing firm projects. Take the time to listen to their insights and possibly implement their suggested changes that wouldn’t have otherwise come up.

Sometime employees of color do not feel comfortable speaking up because they are not sure anyone is really listening.

It is your job to encourage and inspire them to do so. Show them how much you value their input by listening and not just dismissing the things they say. Assign them opportunities that they may not have asked for and check in along the way so that they feel supported.

This goodwill can spread when that employee talks about how much they love the company and/or manager they work for. That’s the best stamp of approval money can’t buy for recruitment efforts.

There is no doubt that the accounting industry has a long way to go to before becoming diverse and inclusive, particularly for Black accountants. By tackling unconscious bias, actively engaging with employees of color and truly valuing diverse perspectives, I believe the industry can move the needle further and faster—benefiting the entire accounting space in the process.

Nayo Carter-Gray is a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, CEO and founder of 1st Step Accounting. As a board member for several local and national organizations and through her financial seminar series, she strives to make her community better. Nayo has garnered more than 25 years of tax and accounting experience in the public and private sectors. A certified “techie,” she wanted to help save her planet, so she decided that a virtual paperless accounting practice would be the most efficient way, along with recycling. With this practice she gets to explore cloud-based solutions that make running a small business possible from anywhere you can connect to the internet. QuickBooks is her favorite accounting software for small businesses, but she will customize software packages to fit any company’s need. Currently, she is licensed by the US Treasury as an Enrolled Agent, a QuickBooks Online Advanced Certified Proadvisor, a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents and the National Association of Tax Professionals, was named one of Hubdoc’s Top 50 Cloud Accountants (North America) 2017 and 2018, and was handpicked to serve as a member of the Intuit Accounting Council 2018-2019.

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Insightful Accountant