Accounting Pros Gauging Diversity in Field

Matt Shelly
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Along with most of the other professional career paths involving science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), accounting jobs are notable for their general lack of diversity. Workplace diversity is important for every field, but perhaps the need for broad outreach is felt nowhere more strongly than in accounting. Accounting jobs are all about solving problems. Every spreadsheet, every ledger, represents a set of problems for you to tackle. Creativity is called for, and unconventional approaches are at the heart of most accounting jobs. How unconventional can a firm's approach be, though, when the vast majority of the accounting jobs—to say nothing of management positions—are held by heterosexual white males from similar backgrounds? This is an issue that every employer in the field will have to answer to remain competitive.

The first hurdle to making a sea change in hiring practices for accounting jobs is learning how to gauge diversity in the first place. That is to say, how do accounting pros even begin to take the measure of the problem, and to what extent are the proposed solutions going to impose costs as great or greater than the evil they seek to cure?

Fortunately, this is exactly the kind of thorny problem accountants are born to solve. The American Institute of CPAs has even created a national commission to asses and promote diversity in the field. The findings of the commission, which are presented annually to the institute, are that the problem is real, it does seriously affect performance of accounting firms across the country, and that—given the relative lack of diversity in college faculty teaching accounting and related majors—the problem will not solve itself.

All is not lost, however, as the institute had a few positive suggestions. While the idea of quotas and deliberate racial and sexual preferences in hiring has been thoroughly politicized, to the point of being illegal in some jurisdictions, the institute recommended both in-house and academic mentorship programs that can help put nonwhite and female employees in a position to get noticed by senior management. Commonwealth Bank, of Australia, has taken this approach. It has also undertaken an accessibility review of its internal policies with an eye toward, not just greater diversity in its accounting jobs, but a more inclusive environment for employees with self-disclosed disabilities. Along with its fellow bank, ANZ, it's lighting the way to a more diverse future for accounting workplaces.

Workplace diversity is a goal unto itself. The political damage that comes from allowing discrimination is so great that it doesn't bear talking about. The financial damage to a bank or accounting firm that doesn't promote diversity is potentially crippling. Last, but not least, the opportunity cost of sacrificing the very people who are most likely to develop fresh perspectives will be keenly felt for the better part of the next generation, whatever steps are taken to diversify accounting jobs today.



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