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Increasing the Pool of Black CPAs

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While the need for new accounting talent grows in the wake of corporate wrongdoing, African American representation in the field remains low. However, one partnership is aiming to change that. Learn more about Howard University and several of the nation’s largest accounting firms are seeking to increase the number of African American CPAs.

by Marc Hopkins
Black Enterprise

While the need for new accounting talent grows in the wake of corporate wrongdoing, African American representation in the field remains low. However, one partnership is aiming to change that.

Howard University minority accounting firms and associations, and several of the nation’s largest accounting firms have teamed up to increase the number of African Americans who enter the field as well as retention.

“We’re About Success!” a week-long event from June 26 to July 1 in suburban Virginia has brought together new accounting hires and experienced veterans to give newcomers technical and interpersonal skills that will aid their advancement.

A recent study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants found 5% of new graduates hired by CPA firms between 2003 and 2004 were African American. While up 2 percentage points from the following period, white applicants made up 81% of new hires from 2003 to 2004.

Organizers say the event is a first step, and plan to replicate it at other historically black colleges and universities.

“This program is unique,” says George S. Willie, managing partner of Bert Smith & Co., a Washington, D.C.-based African American accounting firm. “This is the first time we have confronted what we think are the problems with high turnover and low retention. If we can keep enough minorities and African Americans in the profession, we could get them to stay and advance.”

Demand for accountants is at a premium following the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which was crafted to protect investors from the possibility of fraudulent accounting activities by corporations, largely in response to the balance sheet scandals at Enron and WorldCom. Organizers say expertise gained by accountants makes them targets for corporate and government recruiters, contributing to the exodus from the field.

“I felt that a lot of blacks left the profession earlier than I thought they should,” observes Ross, a retired 38-year veteran from KPMG. “They had a great career, but something happened along the way that turned them off and they took another job offer. When I retired, it gave me an opportunity to deal with that issue.”

James S. Turley, chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, says the industry’s recognition that it needs a more aggressive approach to diversity is in part a response to client pressure.

“The marketplace is demanding we look like them,” explained Turley to the group of some 120 professionals who have just completed a year at their respective firms.

“The time you get into trouble is when you have a bunch of people sitting around a table, and they all think the same thing, and it’s all wrong,” Turley said. “We need people from different points of view and backgrounds talking about what’s best for our clients.”

Much of the event’s programming is focused on strategies for the CPA exam. Without the certification, access to high profile engagements and increased earning potential are limited.

And just as crucial, says Kim Washington Barr, director of minority retention and advancement at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Florham Park, N.J., is acquiring interpersonal skills.

“We’re going to pull back the veil on what it’s really like,” she says. “How do deal with day to day conflict, and how to manage through that conflict. This goes beyond the textbook. I wish I had that before I started.”


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  1. The most comprehensive and very well thought out information I have found on this subject on the online. Keep on writing, I will keep on visiting to read your new content. This is my fifth time stopping over your site .

    Norbert Klosinski

    July 21, 2010 at 12:23 am

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