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Black History Month’s Importance, from a Black CPA’s Perspective


Feb 14, 2020

There are still many who question the need for (and benefits of) an increase in the diversity of our profession. As we celebrate Black History Month, this is a good time to highlight the progress we’ve made, but also to explain why much is still needed:

Black History MonthAn article in the December 2019 issue of the Journal of Accountancy discusses an AICPA resolution passed in 1969 in an effort to improve upon the fewer than 150 black CPAs that existed nationwide at the time. Recent statistics that estimate there are now 5,000 black CPAs in the U.S. could appear to show we have made great progress in the last 50+ years; however, when compared to an estimated 650,000 total CPAs in the country, the number of black CPAs still represents less than .8% of the total. This is a significant underrepresentation, considering that African-Americans are 13% of the U.S. population.

"When compared to an estimated 650,000 total CPAs in the country, the number of black CPAs still represents less than .8% of the total."

Since 2012, the Indiana CPA Society has invested significant resources to make a more substantial impact through its annual, year-long INCPAS Scholars program geared toward helping promising minority high school students to eventually pursue an accounting career in our state. This program includes a “CPA Day” on every Martin Luther King Day holiday, where CPAs of various backgrounds come to share their experiences with the Scholars; I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to the Scholars group this year (as I have in many prior years). Most of the CPA presenters on this day usually focus on the technical, accounting-specific aspects of their careers; I’ve preferred to delve into and give examples of “real-life” tips, such as:

 

  • “Live below your means."
  • “You are always in an interview, even if it’s not a formal one.”
  • “Develop resiliency.”

In recent years, I’ve had more conversations with minority high school and college students where their mindset is along the lines of:

  • “There aren’t enough people ‘like me’ here in Indiana for me to want to stay here.”
  • “I don’t feel included, or I don’t receive the same support that it seems non-minorities receive for class projects.”
  • “Accounting is boring; marketing is more exciting!”

"If [minority students] don’t stay here in Indiana, it reduces the number of people who 'look like them' that upcoming, future generations of minorities will have to look up to."
Toward the end of my CPA Day presentation this year, I thanked the students for coming, and I commended them for investing their time to learn from current CPAs instead of using the Martin Luther King Day holiday to sleep in, play video games, or do other activities. I also reminded them of the importance of the holiday. I explained that the INCPAS Scholars program they are taking advantage of is one of many positive outcomes from the sacrifices made by people such as Mr. King who literally risked their lives for racial equality, and that the students should take full advantage of this opportunity. I shared how blessed I am for how my career has gone, how important it was for me to spend my time with them that day, and how much we’ve benefited from the courageous actions of so many since the days of the Civil Rights movement. I also tried to impress on them that, if they don’t stay here in Indiana, it reduces the number of people who “look like them” that upcoming, future generations of minorities will have to look up to.

So, why the continued push for diversity in our profession? An increasing number of studies show that organizations are more effective (and have more growth) when decisions are made with input from people from a variety backgrounds, rather having groups of the same “mindset.” As the demographics of our state and nation continue to change, more and more business owners and decision makers won’t look like they have traditionally. If we want our profession to remain relevant, we need to more closely “mirror” these changes. Diversity will help increase the “green” (money, profits) when we promote and accept more “black and brown” people.

Regardless of your ethnic background, I hope all of you take time to think more about why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, and what actions you can take to encourage more minorities to pursue our profession here in Indiana.


Michael Johnson, CPA, CGMA
About the Author

Michael is a former INCPAS board member, former chair of the Indiana Board of Accountancy, and has spent his career in public accounting, as well in various director of finance and CFO roles.