Actions need to be taken now to address the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) challenges facing the accounting profession in the United States. That’s just one of the key findings of a groundbreaking new research study, Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent: A Critical Imperative to Achieve Transformational Outcomes, from IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CalCPA), and other collaborative partners.

The DE&I research study examines three demographic focus areas: (1) race and ethnicity, (2) gender, and (3) LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) orientation in the U.S. accounting profession (both public and management accounting). The study also explores the role of ethics in the profession’s overall progress around DE&I and presents solutions to drive expansive change. 

The study found that there is a significant diversity gap between those in executive leadership ranks and the broader accounting profession as well as the U.S. population. For example, African Americans make up 8.5% of the profession but only 1% of partners at U.S. CPA firms and 1.5% of CFOs of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies. The survey revealed diverse talent believes they aren’t advancing in the profession because of a lack of equity and inclusion.

“Although our research highlights the stark reality facing the profession today, it also presents a great opportunity,” said Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE, IMA president and CEO. “Members of our profession are telling us that the only way to overcome today’s DE&I challenges is to collaborate to enact meaningful change, and collective action needs to be taken now.”

The study found that 43% to 55% of respondents from groups underrepresented at senior levels left their employers due to a perceived lack of equitable treatment, and at least 30% have left because of a lack of inclusion. The lack of DE&I poses risks to the success of the profession’s transformation currently underway. As many as 18% of the respondents from diverse demographic groups left the profession altogether due to these factors.

“The diversity gap between senior leadership and the broader accounting profession is a huge wake-up call that this needs to be fixed through real solutions,” said Anthony Pugliese, CPA, CGMA, CITP, CalCPA president and CEO. “More diverse leaders are needed to connect people of all backgrounds to the profession and to serve as role models so we can retain and develop the next generation of talent.”

The study concluded that for the profession to continue to grow and succeed with a robust talent pipeline, actions to address DE&I issues need to be taken now. This includes bringing in and promoting talented people based on relevant and unbiased factors rather than demographics.

“This report gives a voice to members of the profession by presenting their contemporary experiences and is meant to heighten awareness and inspire change at all levels,” said Loreal Jiles, IMA director of research—digital technology & finance transformation, and lead researcher on the project. 

The report acknowledges DE&I improvement efforts that are already underway and suggests action in four areas: awareness, attraction, promotion, and accountability. 

“If we collaboratively work to close the diversity gap, it will not only have a positive impact on the front-end pipeline of candidates coming into the profession, it will work to curb the loss of talent that we are seeing,” said Brad Monterio, CalCPA chief learning officer and CalCPA research lead on this project.

The first in a multi-part global series, the report is informed by results from an online survey of more than 3,000 current and former U.S. accounting and finance professionals and interviews with nearly 60 accounting, human resources, and DE&I practitioners and academics.

Several partners worked with IMA and CalCPA on this research study, including The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), the National Society of Black CPAs (NSBCPA), the PhD Project, Connecticut Society of CPAs, Colorado Society of CPAs, Florida Institute of CPAs, Illinois CPA Society, Maryland Association of CPAs, Massachusetts Society of CPAs, The Ohio Society of CPAs, Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, and Texas Society of CPAs. 

See Also: IMA Briefing

In tandem with this research report, the latest IMA Briefing, authored by Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CSCA, CPA, CFA, IMA vice president of research, offers additional insights on this important topic. Visit the IMA website to read “IMA Briefing: Enhancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Finance and Accounting Function.”