By Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CSCA, CPA, CFA, Vice President of Research and Professor-in-Residence, IMA (Institute of Management Accountants)

Organizations are increasingly being held accountable for and acting on their stated goals of contributing to progress on racial injustice, in addition to promoting equal treatment for women and LBGTQIA. For IMA, this is a time to focus our attention on furthering DE&I in our organization and in the finance and accounting profession.

IMA’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness

Fundamental to IMA’s mission is creating and nurturing a diverse and inclusive management accounting profession. IMA is dedicated to fostering mutual respect and promoting a sense of belonging for members, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. IMA members and professionals are tasked with building inclusive workplaces and cultures by managing people with diverse backgrounds and learning how to overcome biases. Members of IMA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee play a critical role in establishing best practices and challenging organizations to build more inclusive and diverse workplaces. Tomorrow’s committee members and industry professionals are our students, who continue to educate themselves and see that diversity is our greatest strength. It’s important that those educating our students emphasize the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Diversity’s role in the workplace

IMA continues to spearhead the development of new resources to help its members implement DE&I strategies in the profession and across their organizations. In this spirit, we recently partnered with the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA) to release a new joint study on this subject, “Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent: A Critical Imperative to Achieve Transformational Outcomes.” The first in a multi-part global series, this U.S. research study examines three demographic areas in the accounting profession: race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. It also examines the role of ethics in the profession’s overall progress around DE&I and presents solutions to drive expansive change. The key findings of the report, however, did not make for very encouraging reading:

  • 73% of the minority race and ethnic groups surveyed indicated they do not consistently receive fair treatment in the recruitment process
  • 66% of female professionals do not have equitable access to sponsors or mentors within their organization
  • 60% of leaders demonstrate unfair prejudice or bias against interviewed persons who identify as LGBTQIA, which negatively affects promotion
  • 43% to 55% of respondents from groups underrepresented at senior levels left their employers due to a perceived lack of equitable treatment
  • 8.5% of the profession is African American, but only 1% of partners at U.S. CPA firms and 1.5% of CFOs of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies are as well

Perhaps most concerningly, more than 90% of research participants reported that DE&I-related issues disproportionately reduce the profession’s attractiveness to underrepresented groups. Our profession is in great danger as it continues to fail to attract and retain diverse talent in 2021. It may soon face even greater challenges as the U.S. population becomes more diverse across different race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation groups, if changes are not implemented rapidly. These changes need to involve both increasing the diversity of our professional talent pool and ensuring people from underrepresented groups feel they have an equitable future in the finance function.

Education is the root of a diverse talent pool

One factor in the finance function’s lack of DE&I is how members of underrepresented groups are not often exposed to the finance and accounting profession before they enter higher education. It is critical to ensure people of all backgrounds have equal access to entry and advancement in our field. IMA has provided recommendations to various groups to promote success in the profession early in the process:

  • Members of academia must be passionate about engaging their students in the classroom and must provide the necessary resources for minority, female, and LBGTQIA students to succeed
  • Professional organizations need to arrange regular visits to high schools in underserved communities to raise awareness of the finance and accounting profession
  • High schools can partner with universities to connect their students with finance and accounting faculty, students, and industry professionals to ask questions and be informed

Many academics and leaders of all backgrounds are already passionately committed to advancing DE&I in the classroom. For example, The PhD Project was created to tackle diversifying the talent pipeline that feeds into the corporate world. Since 1994, this organization has quintupled the number of minorities earning business-related PhDs in the U.S. and continues to support more than 1,200 minority business professors in their doctoral pursuits.

From the classroom to the corporate world

Interviewees from IMA and CalCPA’s report expressed concern over connecting with the next generation of professionals, including entry level members of underrepresented groups. It is critical to increase the discipline’s visibility to young adults and show them possible career tracks. Once they begin their career paths, their organizations must value them and emphasize retaining and promoting diverse talent.

Students are the future of the finance and accounting profession. IMA has numerous resources to help guide them as they grow in their careers and become DE&I advocates, including our D&I Toolkit, which is inclusive of best practices and sample DE&I definitions and commitments. IMA is also presenting its Women's Leadership Summit this April to empower women of different backgrounds to succeed in our profession. IMA encourages all members, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, to take advantage of these resources and take the opportunity to further their education.

Although DE&I improvement efforts are already underway in many organizations’ finance and accounting functions, we can heighten awareness, increase visibility among underrepresented groups, and hold ourselves accountable moving forward. We need to come together to close the diversity, equity, and inclusion gap. Together, we can have a positive impact on current and future professionals and save the finance function from hemorrhaging crucial talent in a more diverse world.