Minority numbers in accounting don’t add up

Profession needs to reach out to younger students to improve diversity

SOMETIMES OPPORTUNITY DOESN’T knock – you have to bang on the door.

That’s one takeaway from the story of Santiago Fernandez, who had big dreams and one major goal — to move to the U.S. and compete at the highest level of business. He was working in Argentina when his accounting firm was acquired by Deloitte, and in an act of sheer determination and optimism, he flew to Boston, and took a cab to the Deloitte office in the Back Bay to ask for a job.

He asked the security guard to connect him to the Human Resources Department, and the guard reluctantly handed him the phone. Luckily, someone there spoke with him. There’s a Hollywood ending: A few months later, he had a job at Deloitte, and has since worked his way up to partner.

Fernandez shared his story to a group of 16 students as part of the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP), which is an opportunity for young people from underrepresented ethnic groups to experience a free, weeklong program at Fisher College to increase their understanding of accounting and business career opportunities.

Beyond his story of willpower, Fernandez gave the students a less direct but equally important message: People who look like him and come from-less-than conventional backgrounds have a place at financial services firms. Thus the weeklong program for the students was partly a process of demystification as students saw for themselves that accounting and related fields are accessible and interesting and are for people exactly like them. Once they see the potential of the field, they can imagine themselves in it and start taking steps to get there.

As the accounting industry rapidly grows, it desperately needs more minority representation. Data from the American Institute of CPAs show that minorities represent only one in six professionals in accounting firms nationwide, a statistic the profession is determined to change.

Additionally, accounting is often a second-generation career – people with CPAs for parents often follow in their footsteps – so the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA) is working to expand the pool of future CPAs with programs like ACAP.

The ACAP program is an expansion of the local efforts to grow and nurture the pipeline of future CPAs from diverse backgrounds. The Society also sponsors CAMP—which stands for Careers in Accounting and Management Professions—at UMass Amherst, another weeklong summer camp for young people interested in accounting and business.

Both programs offer a diverse set of learning experiences such as panel discussions, interactive exercises, etiquette lunches, field trips to Fenway Park, and guest lectures from Boston’s biggest firms. The programs are designed to be fun, challenging, and engaging. Students explore, network, and increase their understanding about college and the business world while making new friends and developing interpersonal skills in a real-life college setting.

On their last day at the program, students at ACAP were tasked with creating viable business plans for a new company. In groups they explored how they would price, market, and staff their business ideas. An electronics repair shop plan – the business was named Joltz – took first place.

A student from the Joltz group, Josmell Ramos, a junior at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverihill, got a lot out of the program. “I learned that it’s hard but I really want a challenge,” he said. “I want a job that is different every day and that I learn at every day.” He already is studying accounting in high school and plans to become a CPA.

Meet the Author

Amy Pitter

President and CEO, Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants
The professional services aren’t going to meaningfully diversify without a concerted effort, and firms across Massachusetts continue to implement and support new initiatives to expand diversity. Clearly, the earlier outreach the better, which makes programs like CAMP and ACAP so meaningful. With more would-be accountants of color knocking on doors, at least metaphorically speaking, the profession will be much stronger.

Amy Pitter is the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.