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DE&I in Public Accounting: Historic Challenges and Looking to the Future

As we wrap up Black History Month, and quickly approach Women’s History Month, it’s a great time to revisit the topic of diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) in the public accounting industry. Historically, the accounting industry has struggled with incorporating DE&I into the profession, which some say is a result of limited people with diverse backgrounds being exposed to the profession. Others say that the problem isn’t necessarily about recruiting people with diverse backgrounds, but rather an issue of retaining them, as many ultimately leave their firms due to a lack of equitable treatment and/or inclusion.

We recently spoke with Kristen Clark, Partner, and Management Committee member, as well as our DE&I Manager, Andrew Stephens, to explore why the public accounting industry has struggled in this area and what we can do to better incorporate DE&I in our firm and the profession as a whole.

DE&I Challenges in Public Accounting

According to Kristen, one of the biggest reasons why accounting firms tend to struggle with attracting diverse talent is often due to denial. “Frankly, many firms are hiding behind excuses. They say there are no diverse candidates and that they are doing the best they can—but that can’t be an excuse,” shared Kristen. “Rather than attempting to simply look for diverse candidates, we need to create an attractive industry where people of all backgrounds actually want to work.”

Another challenge is the specific requirements associated with public accounting, which can be a barrier for many. “In order to excel in the accounting industry, you must finish 150 credit hours as well as pass the CPA Exam, and work in public accounting for at least a year. These requirements can be very costly and time consuming, which means it’s not always a realistic path for everyone,” shared Kristen.

“While other industries have the ability to modify or lower job requirements, the accounting industry can’t necessarily do that. We need to look at the obstacles preventing diverse individuals from pursuing a career in public accounting and explore ways we can remove them. We can tell people accounting is great all we want, but they may not have the resources to actually be part of it,” added Andrew.

He further explains, “this may manifest in us exploring scholarships and other means of tuition assistance to ease the financial burden of obtaining an accounting degree, or more flexibility in the workplace to accommodate varying schedules.”

Addressing DE&I Challenges at TBG

At TBG, we recognize the challenges our industry faces in the realm of DE&I and have committed to investing time and resources into addressing them. Incorporating DE&I into our firm is not just about attracting people with diverse backgrounds— it’s about what happens once they are here.

Knowing we couldn’t tackle these challenges alone, we recently invested in a consultant, Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, to help us develop a DE&I strategy and pinpoint areas for improvement. As a result of this work, two of the areas we identified as key actions were:

  • The addition of dedicated DE&I resources and team members​
  • The expansion of our education programming ​

Below are some of the ways we implemented these key strategies and have worked to create an inclusive and equitable employee experience at TBG:

Hiring a DE&I Manager

In order to help move the needle in this space, our firm needed to invest in dedicated DE&I resources and personnel. The DE&I Manager role reports directly to Kristen in her role as Management Committee member and clearly is seen as a critical firm-wide initiative, rather than operating in a silo.

“DE&I is not a separate initiative at our firm. We are striving and will continue to integrate it into everything we are doing—it’s a part of our culture. We knew it was imperative to have the DE&I Manager role directly connected to leadership in order to support this,” said Kristen.

Expansion of DE&I Education

We are currently leveraging and expanding our education programming to help create an inclusive and equitable workplace. Education is a critical component of DE&I—it not only provides knowledge on important topics, but it encourages further curiosity, conversation, and even changes in behavior.

We recently held an introductory webinar on Uncovering Unconscious Bias, run by Andrew and our Director of Learning and Organizational Development, Allyson Roote. With over 200 attendees and 20 breakout rooms between two sessions, this training was a great success. It exposed many of our People to a topic they may not have had to chance to learn about and discuss otherwise.

“This training was a great place for us to start. The topic of unconscious bias is something we can address that affects everyone,” shared Andrew. “Looking ahead, we are working to expand learning opportunities as it relates to DE&I topics, create opportunities for small group conversations, and diversify means of content delivery.”

The Council for DE&I

We established our Council for DE&I in 2019 and have been taking action to support the Council’s work since. The Council, with over 40 volunteer members across the firm, is aimed at creating a truly inclusive work environment where all our people are able to achieve their greatest potential to serve each other and our clients. The council is made up of four committees dedicated to Communications, Alliances, Recruitment & Retention, and Education.

Continuously Supporting Our People

We are committed to supporting our People every step of the way before and after they join the firm. We have many benefits and policies in place to promote flexibility and inclusivity including our Flexible Work Model, Dress for Your Day Policy, Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO), CPA Exam Reimbursement Plan, Flexible Observance Days, and more. Learn more about our benefits and perks here.

While great progress has been made, there is still work to be done as the accounting industry continues to face challenges in the realm of DE&I. However, it is important to realize that this process will take time, resources, and a commitment from everyone. We must be willing to do everything we can to provide opportunities and create an equitable and inclusive workplace for all.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our DE&I page here.