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diversity and inclusion

NABA Chair Offers Five Benefits of Having Diversity in Accounting Firms


Following the recent marches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies are looking over their diversity policies with a critical eye. Here, the new board chair of the National Association of Black Accountants offers his perspective on how proactively increasing diversity and inclusion will benefit your accounting firm.

Aug 27th 2020
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Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) has been a vital voice in looking at diversity and inclusion (D&I) opportunities and challenges profession wide.

Herschel Frierson was named the new board chair for NABA in July, at a time when the issue of diversity and equality is at the top of most peoples’ minds. Specifically in accounting, African Americans make up the lowest percentage of employees in the business.

Out of more than 1.9 million Americans listed as accountants and auditors, African Americans held just 8.5 percent of those jobs as of 2019, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. In contrast, Caucasians accounted for a whopping 77.1 percent, followed by 12 percent for Asians and 8.9 percent for Hispanic or Latino. As for women, while progress at the executive level in the profession still needs to be made, they hold over 61 percent of the positions.

However, in the next 25 years, our nation will undoubtedly be more diverse. The U.S. Census expects that over 50 percent of the population will be non-white: 24.6 percent Hispanic, 13.1 percent black, 7.9 percent Asian and 3.8 percent multiracial. Barely over 49 percent of the population will be white.

Those meager African American employment numbers along with the dramatic demographic population shifts projected by 2045 make a strong case why accounting firms need to now ramp up actions to enhance or change their D&I actions. Further, the recent death of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police have prompted many businesses and some accounting firms and groups in particular to boost their diversity efforts. These fresh actions have included forming in-house diversity staffs, beefing up board and CEO involvement on diversity and implementing new policies or re-examining existing ones on the matter.

AccountingWEB recently connected with Frierson who had much to say on where firms can, and need to head, with regards to diversity. He realizes that, although some progress has been made, accounting firms still battle with how to bolster workplace diversity. Moreover, they want to define what their diversity practices should be and stop from being an ongoing obstacle.

"I’m never going to be satisfied," he stated on the need for more changes. "There is so much more that we can and must do. There have been some strides made. In the past it has always been there, but now we have more awareness, especially with everything that has happened [recently]. People are willing to speak up more and stand for what they believe. With the increased awareness, it provides more opportunities.”

Frierson says it is important that firms partner with organizations like NABA to help continue these conversations and educate more people. “Nothing can change overnight, it needs to be long term. This is not a quick win, it needs to be an aggressive and long-term process. We want to make sure that we are moving the needle in the profession."

In general, observers contend a sturdy diversity strategy is essential for accounting firms today. They list several reasons why, including a good D&I plan that can help firms increase recruiting of diverse talent for leadership and entry-level roles. Firms may do well to connect with student chapters that NABA has nationally at colleges and universities to boost recruiting of diverse candidates.

Further, Frierson believes a strong plan can help bring accounting firms a broader client mix from non-white firms who prefer accounting firms with a diverse staff. That can also give firms a competitive edge over rivals that do not prioritize diversity. And, of course, it can help boost a firm’s revenue and profitability.

As a managing director at the public accounting and consulting firm Crowe LLP in Indianapolis, Frierson talked about five benefits to having diversity in the workplace:

1. Team Synergy

Having a team with diversity in thoughts and background allows for you to be your authentic self. Knowing that diversity is a strong point in your company your team will gel better, there is not any self-doubt. When you have diversity of thought you can bring better solutions to the marketplace and potential new clients.

2. Increased Individual Performance

When a firm supports Diversity and Inclusion, you can grow professionally. You would be more committed to the organization. This would lead to better performance which in turn would lead to more contributions to bettering the organization. The fear of being rejected goes away and you will know that your voice is being heard.

3. Improved Client Relationships

It deepens the relationships with your clients in the sense that the client knows they are working with a firm, consultant or individual that values Diversity and Inclusion. You cannot lose sight that your clients or potential client may feel strongly about D&I. Having D&I efforts shows the clients that you are aware of what is happening in the world and that you believe in progression.

4. Community Appreciation

Serving the communities that you work in is important. People know about the companies that are actively in their communities. The people see who are focused on D&I and who is helping with programs like financial literacy. NABA has the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP) that is looking to increase the understanding of accounting and business career opportunities among high school students from underrepresented ethnic groups.

Through ACAP's efforts, students receive educational enrichment experiences and practical help needed for college preparation and a career in accounting. It is important to know that when you leave the office it is important to know that the community you live or work in is being positively impacted by a company that values everyone’s background.

5. Increased Productivity

By having a combination of all the above, you are bringing better solutions for your clients and new opportunities for your firm. When the people who work for your firm believe in their work and are happy with their environment, you will see an increase in productivity. Companies should always strive for growth.

Frierson added that diversity and inclusion create opportunities. "Making sure that everyone is on an even playing field. For individuals to bring their authentic self to the workplace, they have to be themselves."

He concluded accounting firms must be forward-looking, progressive, and not complacent to keep growing, and have a diverse staff to enhance its culture and help add new business.

 “Don’t be comfortable with what you have accomplished, because you could have accomplished those years ago," Frierson says. "Let’s keep it moving.”