Support for diversity within the accounting field can take many forms. For members to succeed in a globally competitive world, two types of diversity are needed, at minimum: diversity within fields of specialization and diversity of individuals within the profession. Two organizations in the accounting profession have been and continue to be instrumental in diversifying both career choices and individuals within the profession: IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) and the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA).
Because most major universities have channeled students into careers as public accountants—even when it has been documented that more than two-thirds of accounting majors land in positions outside public accounting—many students think of themselves as second-class if they have an interest in accounting outside public accounting. Yet everyone’s ideas need to be considered when completing an audit, filing tax returns, and consulting to help a multinational company achieve its mission financially. So it’s counterproductive for universities to push students only toward specializations in the field of public accounting. In “The Accounting Profession’s Lack of Diversity Is a Rodney Dangerfield Problem” (http://bit.ly/2yntC0D), Leona May of Deloitte notes that “Not enough people have been exposed to the profession.” She quotes Frank Ross, Jean Wells, and Allyson Clarke of Howard University, who wrote, “[Y]oung people, including underrepresented minorities, hold the profession in relatively low regard, do not understand what accountants do, and do not appreciate the career opportunities the profession offers….[T]his lack of esteem is widely shared by parents and educators.”
Since diversity in representation is needed in the accounting profession to achieve new ideas and growth, it’s time for accounting programs to broaden their focus beyond preparing graduates to pass the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam. The good news: Some colleges, such as Penn State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, are beginning to diversify the accounting career tracks they offer to their students. IMA supports this progress by educating students about the alternatives to public accounting. As the leading association dedicated to developing, certifying, connecting, and supporting the world’s best accountants and financial professionals in business, IMA provides resources for members, whether they’re students or professionals, management or government accountants, or they work for a not-for-profit or within a multinational corporation.
IMA student members have the opportunity to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential once they have fulfilled their education and work experience requirements. IMA also offers scholarships (more than $30,000 awarded annually), leadership opportunities at university student chapters (supported by professional chapters and more than 85,000 members worldwide), student leadership conferences, student case competitions, and an honor society.
Both IMA membership and CMA certification offer students more validation for a career in management accounting. With 75% of accounting and finance professionals in the United States working inside organizations, assisting in planning, controlling, and decision making—that is, helping companies achieve value-creating operations—the opportunities are there. IMA’s Global Salary Survey in the March 2017 issue of Strategic Finance found that members’ median total compensation in the U.S. increased with the CMA—from $90,000 to $103,000 for members with a bachelor’s degree and from $105,000 to $118,000 for members with an advanced degree.
IMA also seeks to remedy the lack of individual diversity within the profession, having recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NABA to support the advancement of inclusion in the accounting profession. In Accounting, Organizations and Society, Theresa Hammond noted that “African Americans have always been severely under-represented among certified public…accountants.” In August 1990, Bert N. Mitchell and Virginia Flintall reported that as of 1969, only 0.15% of all CPAs in the U.S. were African American. Fast forward to 2010, and the Howard University Center for Accounting Education reported that very little had changed: Only 1% of public accounting partners were African American. Not only does this gap in the diversity of individuals within the accounting profession continue, but the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) has found that the diversity of graduates at the bachelor’s and master’s level is on a downward trend despite committed diversity recruitment efforts across accounting firms.
With more than 200,000 members and more than 150 campus student chapters, NABA (www.nabainc.org/about_us) is a “membership organization dedicated to bridging the opportunity gap for black professionals in accounting, finance and related business professions.” NABA offers a diverse group of students an opportunity to develop and connect through student chapter activities. Student chapter members might be African American, Asian, Indian, Jewish, white, etc., and might be financial, government, or management accountants, or they might work for a not-for-profit or within a multinational corporation. Through its professional chapters, NABA offers four regional conferences every year (central, eastern, southern, and western) and has awarded more than $11 million in scholarships to its student members.
At the regional and annual conferences, students network with professionals, interview for jobs, attend professional development seminars, and meet peers in their region. Currently NABA has in every state an Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP) designed to provide a pipeline into college for students in high school. Further, the professional and student chapters sponsor Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) training and free income tax assistance/preparation to low-income families. Both ACAP and VITA offer students opportunities for the kind of internship experiences that companies want to see in their new entry-level hires.
The opportunities that IMA and VITA offer students wouldn’t be available without the support of businesses and professionals. I invite and encourage you to support and participate in IMA and NABA professional and student chapters as we seek to support a profession diverse in career opportunities and in individuals.