Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in the Accounting Workplace

By Goldberg, Stephen R.; Kessler, Lara L. et al. | The CPA Journal, December 2019 | Go to article overview

Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in the Accounting Workplace


Goldberg, Stephen R., Kessler, Lara L., Govern, Merribeth, The CPA Journal


In Brief

As the United States becomes more diverse, ethnically and otherwise, the pressure on companies to reflect that diversity through their hiring practices has grown. But diversity-and its sibling, inclusion-is not as simple as adjusting demographics. The authors detail how companies can conduct effective diversity management, providing insight into the myriad benefits, needs, and challenges of a more diverse workplace.

Diversity in the workforce drives economic growth and contributes to the success of individual organizations as well as the national economy. It is a core strength of the United States, and it will grow in importance as the country becomes increasingly diverse. Workplace diversity promises great benefits, but it also presents great challenges.

Diversity management is a process that leads to a positive work environment where the similarities and differences among employees and all persons are valued. Research confirms a positive correlation between successful diversity management and organizational performance. As such, diversity and inclusion have become integral parts of the Big Four's plans for the future of the accounting profession. This article discusses the opportunities, needs, benefits, and challenges of diversity management, as well as recommended approaches to reap those benefits.

Background, Opportunity, and Need

Diversity refers to differences among people and can encompass many characteristics, including race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, organizational function, education, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, physical ability, religious belief, and political ideology. The U.S. workforce is more diverse than ever and is predicted to become increasingly more so as the country does likewise. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education projected that the nonwhite portion of the working population would double from 18% to 37% from 1980 to 2020, with a concomitant decrease in the white working population from 82% to 63% ("Fact #1: The U.S. Workplace Is Becoming More Diverse," November 2005 policy alert, http://bit.ly/2pDYcnq). Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2014, for the first time in history, a majority (50.2%) of children under 5 were categorized as ethnic minorities ("Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse," June 25, 2015, http://bit.ly/ 2NovBLS).

Despite growing diversity, however, minority workers are more likely than whites to be unemployed and less likely to be promoted to executive or senior management positions. According to the 2018 U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 89.5% of corporate executives were white and 73.1% were male (http://bit.ly/2SdSqkN). In 2018, only three of the Fortune 500 companies had an Alfican-American CEO (Grace Donnelly, "The Number of Black CEOs at Fortune 500 Companies Is at Its Lowest Since 2002," Fortune, Feb. 28, 2018, http://bit.ly/2NowkN6). Pew Research has published that 40% of both men and women are more likely to hire men over women (Blaze Petersen, "The State of U.S. Workplace Diversity in 14 Statistics," ArchPoint Group, Dec. 20, 2016, http://bit.ly/32h9sTS).

The Big Four have acknowledged the need for greater diversity in the accounting profession. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a culture of inclusion involves having diverse people and valuing differences. The firm acknowledges that 86% of women and 74% of men find that an employer's policy on diversity and inclusion is important when deciding whether to work for a company ("The PwC Diversity Journey," September 2016, https://pwc.to/2NLnMie). KPMG and Ernst & Young also recognize diversity by leveraging differences to promote inclusiveness, valuing differences, and influencing the overall culture ("D&I Means Growth," EY, 2014, https://go.ey.com/ 2CjaTqr). Deloitte has focused its diversity research on the generation gap and its correlation with how individuals view diversity. …

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