Art of Accounting: Scarcity of Black accountants

Accounting

Last week I read that a Black accountant was appointed as managing partner of a Top 50 CPA firm, and another was chosen as chairperson of the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section executive committee. At that same time, I read a firm’s announcement of a new group of summer interns and saw that no one was an African American. When I called that firm, I was told they had hired a diverse group (they did) but that no Black students applied. That got me thinking about the present shortage of Black accountants.

To begin, Steven Harris was chosen as the managing partner of RubinBrown. He started his career there and worked his way to the top. Regardless of his race, I find this an extraordinary accomplishment. However, being Black makes what he did even more remarkable. The lack of proper representation (based on population) of Black people in accounting made it much more difficult to attain what he did because he could not have had the role models, mentors, ease of entry into meetings or encouraging pushes by those who came before him. And in spite of all this, he allocated serious time to be a role model and an involved leader in our profession such as serving as a chairman of the National Association of Black Accountants.   

I cannot imagine his difficulties throughout his career, which he obviously overcame, but I can understand the sacrifices he made with his volunteer activities. Working to improve our profession, share knowledge and processes, and collaborate with fellow professionals to strengthen public accounting is commendable, a way to give back and provide advantages we all can benefit from.

I do not know Mr. Harris, but he is someone I would like to know.

I know Orumé Hays, and she is a pleasure to work and collaborate with. What is super amazing about her is that she does everything as a sole practitioner. She is very active in the New York State Society of CPAs and the AICPA, is an adjunct college professor and spends considerable time in outreach projects. How she balances everything is hard to imagine, but she does. I know many solos who complain they are always too busy and tell me they are not able to get involved in anything beyond the deadlines they are always working against. Orumé does it, and she does it with grace and ease. It can be done, and she is doing it.

Also, as a Black CPA she had added hardships getting into our profession, with no or limited mentors or role models and people she felt she could emulate. There were some, but not as many as there could have been, or should have been. She is also doing what she could to facilitate the entry for others of color into our great profession, which I believe would be even greater with more Black accountants.

The firm that hired the summer interns hired a very diverse group from many different schools, some local and some at a great distance. Some of the recruiters are alumni from the colleges, but not all of them, and they did not go to predominantly Black colleges. I was told there were either no or very few Black students who interviewed.

One way more African Americans could join our profession is they need more mentorship at younger levels of their education, such as high school. This is something that I think needs work, and at present I do not have any solutions. But I wanted to write this column to call attention to Steven’s and Orumé’s recent accomplishments and applaud them for their extraordinary service on behalf of our profession. Good going! 

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” He also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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