A diversity gap exists in the accounting profession. This was confirmed in IMA and CalCPA’s 2021 study, Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent: A Critical Imperative to Achieve Transformational Outcomes. The findings indicate inadequate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace–specifically among senior leadership–thus confirming the need for the accounting profession to change the way it attracts, retains, and promotes talented people.
IMA, CalCPA, and IFAC’s new capstone Report, Diversifying Global Accounting Talent: Actionable Solutions for Progress, states only 57% of 8,500 survey respondents across four regions view the profession as equitable, and 58% view the profession as inclusive.
As professional accountants, we not only have an ethical imperative to commit to decisions free of bias, but an obligation to protect the public interest, including the profession’s ability to deliver value in the future. If a lack of DE&I is encouraging professional accountants to leave the profession and preventing new talent from joining, there is a clear and timely need to enact change.
Informed by survey responses of current and former accounting professionals, including interviews with 100 accounting professionals, and think tank sessions with regional leaders, 3 catalysts for action have been identified alongside 79 actionable practices the profession can enact to progress DE&I and remedy the underrepresentation and inequitable treatment of marginalized demographic groups.
Catalysts for action
1. The current state of DE&I in accountancy
63% of female survey respondents across the geographic regions examined report experiencing inequitable and exclusive treatment in the accounting profession rooted in bias against their identity. 39% of female respondents said that these experiences impacted their career decisions, with 11% noting that it contributed to their decision to leave the profession altogether.
Considerable time, money, and resources are required of professional accountants to join the profession, obtain certifications, and build a career. If employees in already underrepresented groups are willing to leave the profession due to a lack of DE&I, it demands our attention and action. We must tackle existing diversity gaps with measurable actions to both retain existing talent and attract new talent. We cannot rely on future generations to be as patient.
2. The responsibility to protect the public interest
Bound by a code of ethics–the hallmark of the accountancy profession–accountants are trusted to act in accordance with the public interest. Compliance with the International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (including International Independence Standards) (the Code)–specifically the five fundamental principles of ethics–ensures that professional accountants consider whether their own preconception or bias might affect the exercise of professional judgment. As such, our adherence to the Code should foster a culture fit for successful DE&I programs.
A diverse and inclusive culture, where professional accountants can bring their authentic selves to work, combined with meaningful work-life balance and appropriate mental health awareness, all contribute to a culture of trust and integrity. For the global accountancy profession, a culture of trust and integrity supports its ability to deliver on its public interest mandate, thereby increasing its relevance into the future.
3. Demands for sustainable business info around DE&I
Over the last decade, there has been significant acceleration of accounting for sustainability, or environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Emerging standards, such as forthcoming standards set by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), are coinciding with regulators and investors’ interest in high-quality data on human capital, such as board diversity.
It will be the role of professional accountants to gather, validate, and analyze this ESG data to report to external stakeholders. Thus, professional accountants are well suited to lead in DE&I action. To fully leverage the value of human talent–the ‘S’ in ESG–DE&I must be a top priority. Otherwise, one runs the risk of wastefully diminishing or even destroying talent and therefore, long-term value.
From the outset of this project, the goal was to act on our findings. Informed by extensive quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, we have identified 79 actionable practices that organizations can take globally to progress DE&I. These practices fit into two overarching strategic objectives for the profession: (1) attract diverse talent; and (2) retain and promote diverse talent.
|Attract diverse talent||Retain and promote diverse talent|
Long-term success of these strategic objectives will be most effective when actions are measured. To be held accountable, we have included metrics aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals targets to track progress.
The full inventory of actionable practices is available here.
In the last two years, accountancy organizations, firms, businesses, and academic departments have devoted significant resources to DE&I. We have seen CEOs hold roundtables, an increase in funding devoted to DE&I programming, and voluntary disclosure informed by global standards organizations, to name a few.
Though commendable, there exists fragmentation in implementation efforts across the profession, with some entities lacking the expertise and resources required to address DE&I effectively. A key finding of this research is the expressed interest in working collectively to advance DE&I across the profession. We believe shared resources and efforts will yield more impactful solutions.
It is imperative that the accountancy profession commits now to the solutions laid out in the report. A collective effort is required to reimagine legacy programs that have fallen short of our needs and invent solutions that enact genuine, adequate, and sustainable change. Doing nothing is not an option.