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Diversity in the Accounting Profession

Larry Stack and Jason L. Ackerman

Jason L. Ackerman, in his October 2017 Managing Your Practice column (“Sustainable Leadership: Doing What's Right for the Profession,” http://bit.ly/2JA1V9P), states that the accounting profession continues to be primarily led by white males. He further adds that diversity will lead to happier employers, higher profits, and a better profession.

For Ackerman, with multiple credentials, not to support his contentions with any quantified, verifiable data tests the required skepticism of a CPA. His belief that diversity will bring a more enlightened world is a fallacy. Some people or groups may benefit by it, but it does not change the fact that the animal spirit of profit and power and winning at any cost is the mantra for the United States as well as the world. Despite the attractiveness of a more diversified workplace, the United States is continually falling behind against countries that have a more narrow focus on profit and control. Just look at the Fortune 500 companies and see how many are no longer concerned with America's dominance in the market or diplomatic matters.

It is profit and power that motivates human behavior, not only for white males, but for all males and females in all colors, shapes, and sizes. And until that drive is observed in each one of us, we will remain under its spell. For this has been true from the time of the Big Bang billions of years ago until now, with very few meaningful exceptions. No diversity plan, as well intentioned as it may be, will correct this required malignancy in human nature.

Larry Stack, New York, N.Y.

The Author Responds

It is hard to believe that in 2018, I or anyone else should have to respond to a letter questioning why diversity is important for the accounting profession, or more broadly for America and the world. But apparently I do.

Let's start with the hard data reader Larry Stack requests. McKinsey & Company's research states, “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” (Diversity Matters, February 2015, https://mck.co/2Hz94Xb). Research by Cloverpop indicates that diverse teams “make better decisions up to 87% of the time.” (Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision Making, September 2017, http://bit.ly/2I4lEPm). Research from MIT suggests that revenue can increase by as much as 41% if an organization is truly gender neutral (50% male/50% female) (Sara F. Ellison and Wallace P. Mullin, “Diversity, Social Goods Provision, and Performance in the Firm,” October 2014, http://bit.ly/2FjyzKh). The list goes on; suffice it to say that there is no study that I can find that says diversity is bad for the bottom line.

The argument that the writer makes that U.S. companies need to focus more narrowly on making “profits” exemplifies a debate that our entire country is facing now. There is a perception that the United States is in decline, and if we could only go back to a time when we were great again, the world would be a better place. The problem with this argument is the past was good mostly for white, Anglo-Saxon males; everyone else, not so much. This rosy picture of America's past dominance is tinted by a person's own implicit biases. But there is no doubt that suggesting that we should go back to a better time in America's history hits a racist and sexist chord for a lot of Americans.

To relitigate the past is not going to allow America, and the CPA profession, to be successful in the future. It provides excuses about why we can't change, which is ultimately the way our country, and our profession, moves forward and becomes prosperous.

I believe that our profession and our country succeed when our workforce and leadership reflect the diversity of our society. America is great because we are one of the few countries in this world that doesn't have a national ethnicity or religion. We are a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of humanity. The more diverse a nation or a company is, the more diverse perspectives and ideas exist, and the more innovation can occur.

Unfortunately, the CPA profession does not reflect America's diversity. We are led mostly by aging white males. This is why innovation is lacking and why we run our firms the same way we did in the 1960s.

I am not alone in my thinking; the AICPA sees this lack of diversity as one of the biggest problems facing the profession, so much so that they have set up a task force to try to make the profession more diverse. The AICPA sums it up best on its Diversity and Inclusion webpage: “We believe a workplace that is reflective and inclusive of the global communities in which it serves—different people, different cultures, and different perspectives—is greatly positioned to innovatively solve the challenging and complex issues facing clients and the evolving public interest” (http://bit.ly/2r3zdXb).

Jason L. Ackerman, Rock Hill, S.C.

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