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The “why” behind lack of diversity in CPA profession

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 by Rebecca Kerr

By Rebecca Kerr, OSCPA communications intern

By now many people understand the benefits increased diversity in the workplace creates – different perspectives, new ideas and representation are all important aspects that occur as a result.

However, as companies look to hire more diverse applicants, it’s revealing the lack of minority CPAs is a much larger issue for the profession, one deeply rooted in the structure of our society. There is no one easy fix to this predicament.

In the CPA Journal’s recent article “ICYMI: Advancing Diversity within the CPA Profession,” Orumé Hays, CPA, CGMA, interviews Alfonzo Alexander about the reasons behind the profession’s struggle with obtaining and retaining diverse talent.

Alexander, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy Chief Relations Officer and president of its Center for the Public Trust, offers many possible explanations for this problem. One reason he gives is the mere fact that not many people know that CPAs exist at all if they don’t already have familial ties to the profession.

In addition, “many folks make career decisions in life having heard about accountants as bookkeepers, but not about CPAs,” Alexander said. “This is the situation with many in the inner city, where so many minorities live, which is why becoming a CPA is seldom considered.”

When asked of the contributing factors of the perpetual low number of minority CPA certifications, Alexander gave four main components:

1.     The dropout rate
2.     The need to make money immediately after graduation
3.     Exam prep
4.     The age in which different ethnic groups take the exam

Negative perceptions and stereotypes surrounding the profession, the hefty financial and time commitment it takes to become a CPA are other explanations Alexander gave for the lack of diversity and high level of dropout rates.

“Some minority students who might consider becoming CPAs are choosing instead to get the accounting degree and then go into the industry,” he told The CPA Journal. “The expense component of becoming a CPA is a major factor.”

In terms of the fourth reason, Alexander said that as a result of all of these factors, “findings show that 71% of African Americans take the CPA exam after their 29th birthday, 9% after their 34th birthday,” and “data shows that for every year that you wait after completing the academic requirement to take the exam, your chances of success go down.”

Recognizing the complex reasons of the struggle between the CPA profession and diversity is important for positive change. With this knowledge, bigger steps can be taken towards a more diverse CPA workplace.

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