August 1999

Is progress being made?

Diversity in the Accounting Profession

A Panel Discussion

In Brief

For several years, the shortage of qualified professional staff has been the number one concern of CPA managers in public practice. Financial managers face the same problem as they compete to attract talent in the marketplace. At the same time, minorities are underrepresented in the profession, and women (although their numbers are increasing) are underrepresented in senior positions.

Many reasons have been given for the underrepresentation: a lack of knowledge among minorities of the benefits of a CPA career; a glass ceiling, that discourages entry into the profession or leads to an early departure; and competition from other professions.

The CPA Journal invited a panel of CPAs to discuss the issues of diversity and minority representation in the profession. The panel consisted of Alex B. Ampadu, CIA, CMA, CPA, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo; Jeff Chin, CPA, a partner of Ernst & Young, LLP; Jo Ann Golden, CPA, sole proprietor of a CPA firm; Carlos Icaza, CPA, with PricewaterhouseCoopers; Lydia M. Washington, CPA, a manager with the Internal Revenue Service; and Diane L. Womack, ABV, CFE, CVA, CPA, a partner of Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP. The panel was moderated by CPA Journal Editor-in-Chief James L. Craig, Jr., CPA.

Biographical sketches of the panelists provide a framework and background for understanding the panelists' comments.

The CPA Journal: What is the state of affairs in the profession on the matter of diversity, from your perspective?

Jeff Chin: When I started 22 years ago, there were very few minorities and women in the profession. I have seen a sizable increase in both since that time. Is it enough? Definitely not. The profession is headed in the right direction but still has a long way to go. The larger firms are making an extra effort to attract and retain minorities and women.

Carlos Icaza: The statistics show that minorities are still substantially underrepresented. This would be especially true for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.

Alex Ampadu: On the basis of absolute numbers for all minorities, there has been growth. But if you begin to dissect the numbers into categories, they become more revealing. The representation of African Americans in the 90s shows a decline to .6% from around one percent in the 70s, according to an earlier Bert Mitchell study. I am not so sure there has been the kind of results that would be expected from the effort that is being made.

Diane Womack: I think that, in terms of formal programs, greater inroads are being made at the large firms. When you look at the regional and local firms, there tend to be less structured programs. They deal with these issues on an individual basis to match the employee's specific needs. But in both environments, we find them coming in, but not staying.

CPAJ: What seems to be the problem?

Womack: I am on the New York State Society's advisory board for its minority education program (COAP) on Long Island. In interviewing the students, it becomes clear that they do not view accounting as a profession in the same way that they view medicine and law.

Icaza: The first reaction I get when I mention that I am a CPA is, "You do taxes?" While taxes are important, there is little general knowledge about the audits of public companies, the intricacies of business and financial planning, as well as consulting.

CPAJ: That was the reaction 35 years ago as well. Why haven't things changed?

Jo Ann Golden: We do a very bad job of selling ourselves and communicating what we do. Our work is challenging, interesting, and at times fairly complicated. But we don't have a way of making this known to the average person.

CPAJ: Who's not doing the job here?

Ampadu: It has to be a joint effort among institutions--the AICPA and the state societies--and CPAs themselves. But I see another aspect to the problem. Many of my students, some of the best and the brightest, enter the profession, become CPAs, but then decide to pursue other careers. After they leave public accounting they no longer consider or call themselves accountants. Their connection to the profession is not visible to the young people with whom they come in contact.

We need CPAs (whether practicing as such or not) to be out in the communities as role models so that young people can see the rewards of a CPA career. Whose problem is it? In the upstate area that I am in, I do not see African and Hispanic American partners and managers of firms mixing in the community or being visible as role models. And some of the institutional programs are lacking.

Take for example the AICPA scholarship program. It gives out a large number of scholarships but in small amounts, so small that they are not enough to enable someone who otherwise cannot afford to attend college to be able to go. On the other hand, the KPMG PhD Project is making sizable grants to fewer individuals that can then attend a graduate business program leading to a PhD (see the accompanying sidebar for a description of the program).

In my opinion, we would have a stronger impact if we identified fewer high-caliber minorities but provided them with larger scholarships, enabling them to complete four years.

Lydia Washington: I am on the AICPA Minority Initiatives committee. The scholarships range from $1,500 to $5,000, with an average of $2,200. I realize that this is not a lot of money. The AICPA wants to reach out to as many as possible, but the committee has limited resources available for this purpose. So we hope that by touching a larger number with smaller amounts we will have a greater impact. The idea is to provide seed money, which can be combined with scholarships and loans to enable someone to go to college.

The AICPA also has a major effort under way to increase the awareness of the profession among underrepresented minorities. It has concluded that culturally, the young people in those communities have very little contact with CPAs, unlike some of the other professions--doctors and attorneys, for example. The AICPA is running an advertising campaign that shows an entertainer or sports figure with her CPA. The tag line for the campaign is "be a a CPA."

As part of my involvement as a member of the National Association of Black Accountants, I love to speak to young people about what it means to be a CPA. They just don't know--the general public doesn't know. The job also falls on all CPAs as individuals to let others know who they are, what they do, and what the personal rewards of being a CPA are.

Golden: We must take a proactive role as individuals. It can't be just a public relations project. Mentoring programs are an effective way, one on one.

CPAJ: You are right. The AICPA cannot do it all by itself; individuals must be a part of it. But is effective action limited to a member of a minority group?

Golden: I live in a community where there are fewer opportunities to interact, but recently I spoke about accounting with the daughter of a minority client of mine. She would make a wonderful candidate, and I tried to explain the benefits to her. But my conversation may not be enough. It will have to be reinforced by others as she proceeds with her education.

CPAJ: Based upon news articles and news releases, the large firms appear to be aggressively seeking to bring more minorities into the profession. From the panel's experiences, are such programs effective?

Chin: I can best speak about my firm. We are undertaking many programs, incorporating a grass roots approach; going to the high schools, going to the colleges, participating in various programs. We see the programs as a source of bringing talented people to the firm. Once with the firm, we are putting in practices to retain minorities and women, such as flex time, child day care centers near offices, mentoring programs, and a network of area diversity directors. As a result, I expect to see improvement in the number of women and minorities moving into more senior positions. Women have been entering the profession in large numbers for the last ten or so years, but there has been a retention problem.

CPAJ: Does your firm recognize the efforts of those that are active in these programs?

Chin: Absolutely. The firm is taking diversity very seriously. One of the ideas discussed is tying in efforts to performance goals. We have a task force headed by our chairman , of which I am a member, to explore best practices, set direction and programs; to reach out and encourage minorities to come to the firm and, once recruited, to stay with the firm.

Icaza: At my firm we just named a partner for diversity/minority issues, with five managers in support. This represents a serious commitment.

Ampadu: I think that the awareness is there. But I also think those people that we are trying to influence have to be contacted at an earlier age. I see law schools contacting my students in their sophomore year. Premed programs go down to the high school level to make contact with attractive prospects. We are competing with these other professions for the same highly qualified young people.

CPAJ: Who should be doing this?

Ampadu: I think all the constituents must do it--the accounting departments at the universities, the firms, the AICPA and state societies, and individual CPAs. We need to start early. We need more minorities in the upper echelons of the profession who can be role models and be visible in reaching out to the young minorities.

I know that if a young talented minority puts premed down as her field of interest on an enrollment form or interest invetory, she has a better shot at financial resources to further her education. Our profession has not reached this stage yet.

CPAJ: One other item to factor into the formula is starting salaries. Until perhaps this year, the starting salary levels had not changed that much in the last decade.

Washington: People don't think of CPAs as being especially financially successful. They are seen as working long hours poring over the books.

Golden: The reality of the CPA profession is that there is a wide range of financial success. And those that are doing especially well don't like to broadcast it.

CPAJ: The large firms are making a major effort to bring in more minorities. But as Diane says, we are not seeing that in small and medium-sized firms. Presumably as the large firms hire more, there will be more to trickle down to the smaller firms.

Womack: Because of their demographics, candidates are attracted to the large firms. Also, it is my impression that academics discourage some from considering the profession by saying the large firms want only those with high grade-point averages or that the workload is very demanding and not everybody makes it. At the same time, many professors promote the big firms as being the only way to go. Some students are turned off. This makes it difficult for smaller firms to attract qualified candidates.

Icaza: If a minority chooses not to stay at a large firm, there are opportunities with other employers and businesses that may be more attractive than going to a local firm.

Womack: The money to leave the profession is sometimes greater than what local firms are able to pay. It is a highly competetive market for skilled professionals, and smaller practices are being challenged to find effective ways to attract new talent. Having employee-friendly policies can be a major selling point.

Ampadu: Firms are not being operated for charitable purposes. When I became a manager in public, I looked at the offices where there were minority partners. I saw they were in offices that had clients like large governments, not-for-profit organizations, and the like. What is the incentive for a local firm to hire a minority?

CPAJ: The need for more good people?

Golden: We also need to spread the word that experience in the accounting profession is a great stepping stone to success in any profession.

CPAJ: Realistically, what can be done to get more underrepresented minorities into the profession?

Golden: It is up to the profession to create an environment where the public views being a CPA the same as they view being a lawyer or doctor. I don't think that is what people are seeing.

Womack: But does it really have the same stature? Financially, it is a hard sell. We need to better educate the public about the dynamics of the accounting profession that encompasses niches in all aspects of business. Developing the right specialization can yield financial rewards, challenges, and esteem for the profession.

Chin: Doctors and lawyers have a more glamorous image. We have an uphill climb. Many CPAs are financially more successful than doctors and lawyers, but that is not widely seen. Being a CPA is not viewed as glamorous--but the profession is exciting.

Washington: Only part of it is financial. Not everyone is in it for the money. CPAs very often do not look like they are having fun. They boast about the hours they work, or the fact that they haven't seen their families. I did a presentation at a college on behalf of the New York State Society that featured the AICPA video "360 Degrees of Possibilities," which showed CPAs having fun with sports and entertainment figures. CPAs are not typically viewed as interacting with people.

Ampadu: Another problem I see is that there is less importance being placed on being a CPA than there was in the '70s and '80s. The profession does not view itself in the same way. The large accounting firms don't see themselves as basically CPA firms and they aren't necessarily looking for people with strong training in accounting.

Many of the firms are now hiring students from concentrations other than accounting. The premium put on being an accounting graduate is dissipating; there is virtually no added incentive to go through the rigorous accounting programs. When you add to this the smaller group of minorities, I begin to wonder.

CPAJ: The ultimate answer is in the marketplace. The large firms are not doing anything wrong by looking at both accounting and other majors. They are seeking people to fill needs.

Chin: The people that we hire into the assurance and advisory business practice are accounting majors. But we have other needs to fill.

Ampadu: Why would someone want to pursue the more difficult accounting degree when she could be hired into a large firm at the same salary and with the same opportunities as someone with a business concentration?

Icaza: A person involved in assurance services is pursuing a different career than someone doing consulting services or installing a large computer system. For some, the true profession is doing the audits, telling the client what it doesn't want to hear. There are those that will be drawn to that aspect of the profession.

CPAJ: To what extent is there a ceiling in the pursuit of a career in public accounting?

Ampadu: We should include in this discussion the ceiling that may be created because the minority or woman may not be culturally or otherwise prepared to do some of the things partners in CPA firms are expected to do, such as bring in new business.

Womack: My life experience did not really prepare me for the practice development aspects of the profession. While in college, I did not realize the importance of contacts and networking, which can have lifelong benefits. For many minorities, that would not be part of their thinking either. After you have been out of school four or five years, it is hard to reach back and find those people.

I have also encountered certain elements of a ceiling. At the time I was expecting my first child, I was working in a national firm and was in line for a promotion. If not for the fact that a woman partner convinced the other partners I would return, I do not think it would have been given to me. This kind of mindset still exists at many firms. Some partners are not convinced women can continue to contribute during childbearing and child-raising years. I did not encounter that problem in my current firm when I had two other children. Other practices are not ready to seriously use flexible and part-time scheduling to take care of clients.

I think that the national firms and others that are effectively dealing with these issues find that women are attracted to opportunities at their firms.

Chin: It is time to make it clear to all those seeking to join the profession that, from the very beginning, they will be expected to be involved in new client development. The notion that professionals in firms don't need to focus on new business until they move up into the manager and partner ranks is no longer appropriate. Women and minorities that are aware of this and can demonstrate an interest and skill for this will be at an advantage.

Our firm has a pilot program in some offices for female managers, senior managers, and partners to become involved in their communities, meet more businesspeople, and establish their own networks.

Icaza: Networking is very important. I was out of step with most when I decided to pursue a career in public accounting--it was a career change. I got my start by networking, by attending meetings, by talking to people.

Washington: Networking is very important, and especially networking with those who you do not closely associate. I tell members of NABA's student chapters that it is not enough just to network in NABA. Go to the CPA candidates' meetings, go to the state society and AICPA meetings, go to the IMA meetings. Most students don't realize the benefits of interacting with a wide range of professionals and business people.

Golden: The option I took was to form my own firm. If you count the number of female partners in local firms, there are very few. The older, male partners continue to have a strong influence, and their prejudices or perhaps lack of understanding sets a tone that creates a ceiling. In the larger firms, I think this has dissipated.

CPAJ: The NYSSCPA's COAP program brings minority students to a college setting and gives them a week of exposure to the business world and to accounting as a career. How is that doing?

Womack: My understanding is that the New York City program, which is conducted at Pace University, has resulted in a number of minorities choosing to pursue a business career. The Long Island program at Hofstra University is still a new program, but my firm is using it as an opportunity for exposure to minority young people. They come and tour our offices, gain an understanding of the business, and walk away with a sense of our firm's culture. But more funds are needed to get more minority students into the program.

Golden: Programs upstate are much less structured and on a much smaller scale. We need to make a concerted effort to expand COAP upstate.

CPAJ: Thank you for participating in the discussion. It is the Journal's hope that your comments and observations here will, in some small way, increase awareness of the issues that are shaping the future participation of minorities and women in the profession.

The CPA Journal welcomes comments from readers and professional organizations regarding their views on the state of diversity in the profession. *

JO ANN GOLDEN, CPA, is the owner of her own firm in Herkimer, N.Y., which has a staff of four accountants. She operates a general practice that includes accounting and auditing, with a concentration in tax.

"I began my professional career as a math teacher. I was then the executive director of a not-for-profit organization for a number of years that did community research and community organizing. I always liked the financial aspect of things, perhaps because my father was a public accountant. I studied accounting with the hope of joining a large accounting firm but had to settle for a local firm in my upstate New York area--there were no large firms there. Working there was okay, but because I was older I needed more independence and flexibility. I then joined a sole practitioner and ended up working on my own. I now have several women working for me, and I enjoy a great deal of flexibility in my practice."

JEFF CHIN, CPA, is an assurance advisory business services partner in the New York office of Ernst & Young working in the Retail, Distribution, and Manufacturing group. He has been with the firm for 22 years.

"There were two things that led me into the profession. First, as a young man I was fascinated by the kind of things I saw my father's accountant doing. Second, I was drawn to science and math. I saw this skill set as a natural for an accounting career. As I found out, however, the math background was less important than the use of logic, the ability to translate theory into practice, and interpersonal skills. I am pleased with the path my career has taken."

LYDIA M. WASHINGTON, CPA, was recently named a manager with the Internal Revenue Service. Prior to that she was an agent in the financial products area. She met her CPA experience requirement during her 11 years of service with the IRS, during which time she was primarily involved in audits of large corporations.

"In college, the only minority professor I had taught accounting. He was an inspiration to me and worked with me on an individual basis during the times I struggled. He preached that you can't be just an accountant--you have to become a CPA. From his point of view, there was no choice to be made. I did not join a public accounting firm because I was not in the mainstream of their recruiting efforts. I was attending college at night, which takes longer. Getting interviews with firms was not easy. I was already working in government service, and so I decided to work for the IRS. It took a long time to become a CPA based upon my government service, and it required a lot of correspondence and documentation of my work experience to explain why it qualified under state regulations."

ALEX B. AMPADU, CIA, CMA, CPA, is an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to his 12 years of teaching, he was an audit manager, at Deloitte & Touche. A Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Award winner, Ampadu is a co-advisor to the University of Buffalo's minority management society and the Atlantic Coast director for Beta Alpha Psi, the national accounting scholastic society. He currently chairs the NYSSCPA's Minority Group Recruitment Committee.

"I went to public accounting after working in a financial institution for about three years. As I worked at the bank, I observed the outside auditors, what they do, and their professional outlook. I wanted to be one of them, plus I had also passed the exam and desired to gain the experience for certification."

CARLOS ICAZA, CPA, is a senior associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers in the financial services area, where he works on engagements involving investment companies, employee benefit plans, and internal controls at service organizations. Prior to joining PricewaterhouseCoopers he was employed by a medium-sized firm. He is a member of the American Association of Hispanic CPAs.

"Being a CPA is my second career. I went to school at night while working at a large retail organization. The company filed for bankruptcy protection and, as part of its restructuring, offered me a financial package. I had always liked working with numbers and accounting. I passed the CPA exam and decided to pursue a career in public accounting. My only regret is that I did not begin sooner. I started with a medium-sized firm, and about a year and a half ago I jumped at the opportunity to join a Big Five firm."

DIANE L. WOMACK, CPA, is a partner of Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP in the litigation consulting, and bankruptcy services department. Prior to her nine years with Margolin, she was employed by a national firm.

"When I was studying accounting, I looked at the possibility of joining the profession, gaining enough experience to get my CPA license, and starting my own firm, while at the same time raising a family. The flexibility of balancing my work and life experience was not as easy as I thought it would be and I never did end up with my own firm. But now, as a partner in a large regional firm, I do have some degree of flexibility while I raise my three children."


Studies show that minorities are attracted to attend schools with minority representation on the faculty. The KPMG Foundation provided the major commitment of funds--to date up to $3 million--for the launch and ongoing operation of the PhD Project, whose ultimate goal is to bring more underrepresented minorities--African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans--into the profession.

The PhD Project operates a direct-mail campaign that invites minorities to apply to attend its annual conference, held in conjunction with the annual conference of the American Accounting Association. At the conference, applicants are given details about PhD programs and how to apply for admission. Those that apply become part of a mentoring program designed to contribute to their success.

The project works closely with the Minority Accounting Doctoral Students Association, which was formed to provide networking opportunities for minorities in their particular programs.

This fall, 132 minorities will be enrolled in doctoral business programs as a result of the PhD Project.

The PhD Project doctoral students serve as teaching assistants and interact with undergraduates when they are forming opinions and making decisions about career choices. According to KPMG Partner Bernard Milano, who directs the firm's involvement in the program, "This allows for maximum opportunity to influence students to pursue a business course of study--a prime long-term objective of the PhD Project."

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