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How to Get More Blacks and Latinos in Accounting

Professional choices for Black, Latino and American Indian college students can seem limited; the students are often more interested in popular or high-status occupations or professions they know well through their parents, family and friends.

Accounting continues to lack significant racial/ethnic diversity, which is a real challenge for accounting firms as they try to relate to increasingly diverse clients. Latinos comprise only 3 percent of the CPA profession and Blacks account for only 1 percent, according to the American Institute of CPAs. Data about new hires that were CPAs shows 4 percent were Latino, 4 percent were Black, and just 1 percent were American Indians.

Aggregate data submitted by the Big Four accounting firms for The 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey show a similar lack of racial diversity in management positions, except for Asians. The data shows 3.9 percent are Black, 3.5 percent are Latino and just 0.22 percent are American Indian. Asians, in contrast, account for 15.7 percent of management positions at the Big Four. The Big Four are PricewaterhouseCoopersErnst & Young,   Deloitte and KPMG Nos. 3, 5, 8 and 29 on The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 list, respectively.

Ernst & Young wants to attract those students interested in finance and accounting to one particular area: tax. Ernst & Young formalized its Discover Tax program in 2007 to attract more Blacks, Latinos and American Indians to the tax profession.

This month, Ernst & Young held its fifth-annual, all-expenses-paid Discover Tax event in New York City, hosting more than 100 Black, Latino, American Indian and Asian students from 58 U.S. colleges and universities. The students are recommended by the faculty of more than 200 schools where Ernst & Young actively recruits.

Raising awareness of tax professions is the challenge. “Tax gets a bad rap,” says Chris Yamamoto, Americas tax people leader for Ernst & Young. “But, increasingly, company chiefs are finding that tax is such a big line-item cost that they have to pay attention to it. Whatever they do in a business context is going to have tax implications. There’s a unique advisory role that tax professionals can fill.”

Exposure to the profession makes a difference. Ken Bouyer, Americas director of inclusiveness and recruiting, who is Black, wanted to be an accountant because his mother was an accountant.

Many times, Blacks, Latinos and American Indians want to go into professions they believe will have a positive impact on their communities, and professions in education, medicine and law are often the first to come to mind, Bouyer says. Thus, it can be difficult to get your profession to be top-of-mind for those students, even though it also provides opportunities to give back. “Here is an opportunity to have the financial wherewithal to contribute to the community,” he says. “Being able to give a scholarship to a kid in your community, buy books for a school or being able to talk about what you do and expand a young person’s horizons [is] valuable.”

Cristina Lapa is a first-generation American, and English is her second language. Now a 19-year-old sophomore at Penn State University, she wanted to be a tax accountant because her Cuban-born mother was so passionate about her work in tax. She brought Lapa to work and talked often of the work she did. “Tax is so rewarding,” Lapa says. “You’re helping clients save money.”

Lapa now aspires to make partner in a public accounting firm. Accounting could benefit from her experience. “Every culture has its own ideas and its way of raising people. Working with different types of people helps expand your understanding and expertise,” Lapa says.

8 Comments

  • Anonymous

    With the information here, it’s clear one of the answers is Marketing the profession from the perspective that it does contribute to one’s community in a positive and effective way. We’ve limited “advertising” in schools by junk food companies, but nothing stops this type of marketing within our schools.

  • Anonymous

    I am actively recruiting for an accountant. I wish the article talked more about where i could find diverse candidates for accountant positions. As a recruiter, they are hard to find.

  • I was in the accounting profession for 15 years before going into the education profession once I started my family. My sons aren’t now grown (one MBA, the other in college). I would love to return to the accounting profession after my extended absence. When I switched careers, I left as a Finance Director for a nonprofit organization, managing a $ 1.5 million budget.
    T

  • Anonymous

    I was in the accounting profession for 15 years before going into the education profession once I started my family. My sons are NOW grown (one has his MBA, the other in college). I would love to return to the accounting profession after my extended absence. I left accounting as a Finance Director for a nonprofit organization, managing a $1.5million budget.

    When I switched careers, I could afford to, and did take a large pay cut. However, after such an extended absence from accounting, I feel I would have to start all over again with an entry-level salary (B.S. Business Administration, not Accounting). I can’t afford to take another pay cut since I am now divorced. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    What do you mean by “diverse” candidates for accounting positions? Try judging humans by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.

  • Anonymous

    The artificial mechanisms of the diversity programs would be unnecessary if the education system was competent with its responsibilities. Instead of providing a sound education based on a rigorous curriculum, students are taught how to feel good about themselves, to love the planet and to celebrate diversity. Although lovely and beautiful, this education model won’t help anyone to learn how to balance a t-account.

  • Anonymous

    I must state that the title of this article is the most discriminatory thing I’ve seen “in writing”! It’s just as bad as assuming that Asians are all smart, or stating all Whites are affluent! What’s killing this country are statistics. As long as we continue to assume we need to place people in categories, discrimination will never end!!

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate the way DiversityInc is changing the way underrepresented groups are attracted to the fields of accounting. I have a brother who completed his degree in Accounting last year, and he is an Afro-American. However; he has not been able to find a job in his field. Are there any suggestions/options which you would like to share that would provide some insight into the field of Accounting for a black male eager to get started.
    Thank you.

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