New Diversity and Inclusion Committee Aims to Address Representation in the Profession

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 8, 2017

While the accounting profession has made significant progress in recruiting from traditionally marginalized groups, even in 2017, challenges remain.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in accounting and auditing earn 26.5 percent less than their male counterparts. And while more women are graduating with accounting degrees than men, less than a quarter of them are making partner, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Among people of color, only 4 percent of CPA partners are black or Latino, according to a Howard University School of Business Center for Accounting Education study, “Attracting Underrepresented Minorities to the Accounting Profession: Insights into Diversifying the Talent Pipeline.” CPAs who identify as Asian-Pacific Islander make up just 5 percent of the partner population.

In response to these ongoing challenges, the Society has formed the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which is aimed at ensuring that the NYSSCPA and the profession as a whole are positioned to attract and advance aspiring professionals of all types, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability status or any other aspect of diversity.

As people around the world made preparations to observe International Women’s Day on March 8—celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women—the chair of the new committee, Rumbidzai N. Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, and one of its members, Jan C. Herringer, a Society board member, stopped by the NYSSCPA’s offices to discuss the committee’s mission as well as one of its programs, the Women’s Initiative, which is particularly focused on the dearth of women in leadership roles.

The committee started in response to what Bwerinofa-Petrozzello called a “moment of zeitgeist”: an increased interest in diversity and inclusion at all levels of the accounting profession. She said that several people had been having separate discussions  within the Society about the need for such a group; the discussions reached a critical mass, leading to the committee’s formation.

Herringer was one of the people having these conversations. She said she’d often wonder why it was that the Society didn’t have a committee addressing issues involving diversity, because it’s a very important matter for the profession to face, even from just a purely business perspective.

“I think in order for firms to really reach their own potential, you have to embrace the total population of your firm, which is comprised of women, men, people of color; all different walks of life come into your firm, and those are your resources. Especially in a service world like accounting, these people are how you are going to be profitable,” she said.

The committee held its first meeting in February, and already, its members have formed subcommittees—including the Women’s Initiative—and held a breakfast panel on diversity, Herringer added.

Bwerinofa-Petrozzello said that she has “grand hopes and dreams” for the committee, but for now, it is mainly concerned with listening.

“We’re trying to work with our membership and talk to various people about what their challenges are, either on the path to becoming a CPA or when they’re in the workplace and navigating their careers and getting through promotions, or just being happy when working,” she said. “One of the things we’re really trying not to do is … just do[ing] things we think are important; [instead, we are] looking at our membership and seeing what their needs are and addressing them” she said.

Bwerinofa-Petrozzello also mentioned that the committee can serve as a bridge to the Society’s Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program, which was also formed as a way to increase racial diversity within the profession in New York state and among aspiring professionals at all stages in their careers, not just in college.

“With COAP, we do very important work with students, and after that, we release them into the world, and then we wonder where they disappear to when we haven’t really kept in touch with them,” she said.

Mentoring is a topic that has come up within the committee frequently, so far. Bwerinofa-Petrozzello noted that it can sometimes be a challenge for people to envision themselves as leaders because they don’t see anyone else who looks like them at the leadership level. Mentorship can be a valuable component in addressing this problem.

“I’ve had conversations with even partners at firms who maybe had seen a woman who was doing well and felt [she] would succeed, but she didn’t see herself as a partner and left, because no one had that conversation with her about success, and she wasn’t seeing anyone who looked like her in leadership. So, it wouldn’t cross her mind that this is something that could be achieved,” she said.

Bwerinofa-Petrozzello added that it’s also important that the committee be a place where all stakeholders sit at the table—she noted that firm leadership still tends to be mostly white and mostly male, and so efforts to improve diversity cannot succeed if they are not on board, too.

“In order for anyone to move up or be promoted, they have to be promoted by that very leadership, and if that leadership does not believe in any of the stances we take, any of the conversations we have about diversity or inclusion, if it’s not something they buy into, it’s never going to happen. So, it’s important for everyone to be involved in this conversation where we’re all understanding where we’re coming from and get to a place where we’re all successful,” she said.

Room for improvement

So how is the profession doing, in terms of getting to this place? Both Herringer and Bwerinofa-Petrozzello said that circumstances are better than they were, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Bwerinofa-Petrozzello noted, for instance, that at a certain point the profession was less than 1 percent black. Today, the National Association of Black Accountants says that this number is closer to 9 percent. While this is certainly an improvement, she said that this is “nowhere near representative of American society.”

“I know [the numbers] have improved, but we have definitely not reached a goal of … seeing the profession that looks like the community in which we live,” she said.

Herringer, meanwhile, noted that while women make up about 50 percent of entry-level accountants, firm leadership is still dominated by men. She said that it’s important to have discussions about these kinds of issues. What’s really important, she said, is to set concrete, specific goals, such as increasing female representation in firm leadership by 5 percent. 

“We can have a lot of discussions and programs and events, but we need to have some measurable goals, and that is something I’d like to look forward to, something to move toward so we can have some achievements. … Without a plan, you’re going to waver,” she said.

Bwerinofa-Petrozzello agreed, noting that it’s important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good when assessing progress.

“We have moved forward, and just because we’re not in an ideal space doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” she said. “But if we don’t believe in the ideal and don’t set that goal, it’s never going to happen. I think this is one of the biggest challenges: to keep the faith and keep plugging away, as difficult as it is, as challenging as it is, as uncomfortable as it can be.”

NYSSCPA President F. Michael Zovistoski said, “The CPA profession has come a long way in terms of racial and gender diversity, but we’re still not seeing growth at the corporate or firm leadership level. This committee, which everyone is encouraged to join, seeks to address that and other issues surrounding the representation of women and persons of color in the profession as a whole, in the NYSSCPA and in leadership positions.”

Herringer pointed out that this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag for social media, #BeBoldForChange, can be applied to the work of the Society’s new committee as well as for the broader diversity initiatives of the profession.

“So, be bold. I think that means be bold yourself, challenge yourself and move forward. But also for everyone around us, for people who want diversity and inclusion to succeed: Be bold and help others achieve that,” she said. 


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