Historically, the C.P.A. profession excluded people of color because you need to work under the supervision of a C.P.A. in order to become a C.P.A. So if C.P.A.s were not hiring people of color and women in the past, then their chances of getting that experience was very low. To put it in context, this is a profession that is over 125 years old and the 100th Black person to become a C.P.A., Bert Mitchell, is still alive to tell the tale.
Many C.P.A.s of color take what is referred to as a nontraditional path. They may not have heard about it growing up and may come across a C.P.A. later and decide to pursue it. I feel strongly that there is inadequate support for people who decide to take that route. I don’t have the answers for all of this but I have deep admiration for the nontraditional-path C.P.A.s. If you are deciding to go back to college, to take these hard exams, that’s a level of commitment.
We are thinking of building a pipeline not just of very young people, but one of talented C.P.A.s. If this is your career goal, that should be open to you. What should keep you from being a C.P.A. is if you can’t pass the exams, if you can’t understand debits and credits. It shouldn’t be because you are too old or you are a person of color or you are a member of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
Your appointment comes one year after the murder of George Floyd, and as companies have pledged to improve diversity in their ranks. How will you, and your organization, meet the moment?
With as much support as possible. The state society within the organization now has a diversity, equity and inclusion committee on staff, which is something that didn’t exist two years ago. The big accounting firms have made a commitment to D.E.I. Several have put out transparency reports about their numbers, especially in leadership. One of the things they found was when you are on the path to partnership, you work with challenging and high profile clients and run those client engagements. If you are not getting those clients, it’s a barrier to various levels of partnership. What they were finding was that people of color were not being assigned those engagements. It is something that has been acknowledged and that they are working on.
I admire the ability to take an honest look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, because a lot of the firms have had D.E.I. initiatives for decades and being able to stop and look and say, what we have been doing hasn’t been working and what do we need to fix and also let’s be open about this process, those are things to applaud.
What does success look like?
If we get to a point in the industry that is reflective of the society that we live in, at all levels, including making partner. People of color have been getting an education for a long time and they have been going to work for a long time, so there is no good reason why we are not seeing those people of color in positions of leadership.