Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Taking a Systemic Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Taking a Systemic Approach

Article excerpt

For the better part of two decades ending in the late 1990s, I was responsible for university recruiting at KPMG LLP. While we worked to increase diversity in the firm, it was frustrating because so few people of color were studying business and, therefore, there was little diversity among the candidates applying for positions within the firm. Specifically, very few were majoring in accounting and studying auditing and tax.

Determined to change that, the KPMG Foundation in the 1990s started three programs--The PhD Project, a minority accounting doctoral scholarship program, and grants for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that seek accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

The PhD Project began when in 1993, the KPMG Foundation, the program's creator and lead sponsor, convened academics and corporate representatives who shared our concern and frustration about diversity in America's business management ranks. We initiated a systemic and fundamental program to correct a major problem: U.S. business school faculties consisted of less than 1.5% minorities. With no faculty of color in the front of the classroom, how were colleges and universities going to attract minorities to study business disciplines?

The founders of The PhD Project believed that the source of talent for the accounting profession was the nation's business schools. If business schools couldn't produce a diverse set of graduates, we could not have diversity in our firms and, therefore, we could not have diversity in our profession. Something needed to be done. There were no role models, and there was an absence of natural and approachable mentors.


The nonprofit PhD Project Association, with the backing of sponsors including the AICPA (see a full list of sponsors at, uses a three-pronged approach to increase the population of minority business professors. We begin with a marketing campaign to identify the best potential Ph.D. candidates of color already at work in successful careers. Qualified candidates then attend a two-day conference in November where they hear from deans, professors and minority doctoral students about the benefits of pursuing a business Ph.D.

The third component of the program is a network of minority doctoral student associations formed to combat the high attrition rate (25%) inherent among all business doctoral students. The associations provide networking, peer support, mentoring and joint research opportunities for minority doctoral students in each of five disciplines--accounting, finance, management, marketing and information systems. Our retention rate of students who are members of these associations exceeds 90%.


The KPMG Foundation launched the HBCU accreditation grant program along with The PhD Project because 35% of African Americans earning degrees in business did so at HBCU institutions. Without accredited HBCUs, the pipeline of talented minority business school graduates would suffer. Accreditation requires attention to continuous improvement, thereby improving the preparation of those entering our profession. …

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