Adding Up the Numbers: Study Reveals That African Americans Have Long Been Underrepresented in the Tax Profession; However, There Is Plenty of Opportunity to Get Involved

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GLENN R. CARRINGTON, NATIONAL tax director for client services at Ernst & Young L.L.P., is on a mission. After 30 years in the tax profession, he is anticipating retiring in four to five years--but not before he imparts some advice on how his firm can attract and retain more African Americans. One of his ideas has already come to fruition. In 2007, Ernst & Young launched the Diversity Tax Leadership Conference, a program that exposes more than 100 invited students to the career possibilities within the tax profession over a three-day period in New York City. "We normally go on to hire 90% of the people we bring in," notes Carrington.

Despite the program's positive recruitment numbers, historically the black population in this field has been minimal. Minorities in Tax 2010, a study released by Tax Diversity, a career portal Website for diverse tax professionals, examines the number of blacks within the arena of tax, which includes public accounting firms; government, particularly the IRS; and corporate in-house tax departments. In 2008, blacks were represented at only 4% in public accounting firms, which include the big four: Ernst Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and Deloitte & Touche. Whites, Asians, and Hispanics were represented at 71%, 18%, and 5%, respectively. The study compares results first found in 2002 when blacks represented only 3% in public accounting firms, whereas whites were 81%, Asians 12%, and Hispanics 4%. While no data from in-house tax departments is reported in the study, it predicts that in-house tax department numbers for blacks mirror those in public accounting.

"By 2006, I realized we had the same problems because I didn't see candidates coming through the ranks," explains Anthony Santiago, founder of TaxSearch Inc., an executive search firm focused on recruiting tax professionals. He released the studywhen his searches for qualified, seasoned minority candidates surfaced few professionals. "I did an update to see if my intuition was correct and, sure enough, you can tell by the data results that not much has changed."

The most significant growth illustrated by the study falls within the government sector. In 2008, blacks represented 20% of the IRS staff, in comparison with 12% in 2002. Whites were 65% in 2008 versus 76% in 2002; Asians 6% versus 7%; and Hispanics, 8% versus 6%.

As a specialized discipline in accounting, there is a high demand in tax departments to fill their staff with more members. Since whites dominate the field, as baby boomers retire, there will be increasing opportunities for minorities. "The IRS indicated they are going to lose about 30% of their workforce within the next five years," explains Santiago. "One of my major employers, which has a tax department of more than 400 people, estimated that they are going to lose approximately 35% of their workforce within the next five years." Though employment of tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents in federal, state, and local government is projected to grow by only 2% between 2006 and 2016, the federal government is expected to increase its tax enforcement efforts and there will be increased competition for positions within the IRS. Within public accounting, where those in tax focus on advising companies and preparing individual income tax returns, job prospects are very promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost 226,000 new jobs will emerge between 2006 and 2016. Opportunity for tax professionals can also be found within medium-sized firms, small businesses, and law firms. Additionally, there has been a recent demand for professionals who are skilled in foreign tax practices.

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But getting people to fill the vacant space will prove difficult since fewer blacks are taking the certified public accountant (CPA) exam and majoring in accounting in college. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 11. …