Valuing and Elevating CPA Diversity in the Accounting Profession

The accounting profession has historically been one which lacks diversity representative of the US population, although it incorporated diversity initiatives earlier than many other industries. While strides toward more diversity in the accounting field have been made, including in gender and racial diversity, leadership at accounting firms still leaves much room for growth, and doing so strongly benefits organizations. 

Current CPA Demographics

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) releases accounting demographic data every year in its Trends report, including race and gender data for representation in universities as well as professional accounting. According to the 2021 Trends report, professional accounting staff at firms comprise 62 percent white, 5 percent Black, 24 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 7% Hispanic/Latino. Compared with the general US population, which is 75 percent white, 13.6 percent Black, 6.4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 18 percent Hispanic/Latino. 

While Asian/Pacific Islanders make up a larger percentage of the accounting population than their US demographic, those identifying as Black and Hispanic/Latino are underrepresented in the profession. The data also shows that representation in college and university accounting programs has remained relatively stagnant at numbers very similar to the professional staff levels at firms. 

Additionally, leadership remains even less diverse, with just 2 percent of Partners at US accounting firms being Black, and 82 percent of partners being white. Furthermore, while the numbers of women graduating from associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s, doctorate level accounting programs remain relatively equal to men if not greater than, men outnumber women in partner positions at accounting firms by 22 percentage points (61% identify as male, 39% female).

The Importance of CPA Diversity

One article published in the CPA Journal underscores the importance of diversity in the accounting profession, calling it “not only relevant but obligatory,” and citing the 2015 McKinsey report showing the beneficial financial impact on companies with more diverse workforces. In accounting specifically, as explained in a blog post for Intuit, diversity begets diverse perspectives, which can keep an accounting firm or agency relevant, bring in new ideas, solve problems faster, and anticipate client needs. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts can address and combat systemic racism if organizations value the DEI work being done, rather than just doing DEI focused work or seeking to fill diverse positions, according to Penn Wharton management professor Stephanie J. Creary. 

The Future of Accounting

Even as recently as over the last decade, the role of accountants has evolved into a position of strategic, proactive insight and analysis. The Boler BS in Accountancy at John Carroll University includes coursework and development in understanding DEI principles, long-term advocacy in ethical leadership, and the ability to anticipate and adapt to changing market conditions. 

JCU is a private Jesuit university located in University Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland.