Around the country, companies are making concerted efforts to diversify their workforces across physical ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and age.
But many businesses aren’t limiting their diversity efforts to simply hiring more minorities. They’re striving to change the culture, creating workplaces where all employees feel valued and safe, and everyone can compete for promotions, raises, and leadership positions on truly equal footing.
While there is more work to be done, progress has been made. For instance, U.S. women still earn 18% less than men when comparing median incomes—but the gender pay gap has been roughly cut in half since 1980, when women made 36% less than men.
As you evaluate employers for the next step in your accounting career, you’ll definitely want to consider the company’s commitment to diversity as a key factor in your decision. Forbes and research firm Statista recently released a guide that will help you identify diverse organizations: the 2018 Best Employers for Diversity.
In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of working for one of those companies and highlight the benefits of corporate diversity for minority and majority employees alike. But first, let’s take a look at the state of diversity in the accounting industry to see where things currently stand.
Diversity in accounting
The accounting industry has long suffered from a lack of diversity. Racial and gender uniformity plagues every aspect of the profession, but the problem starts with education. According to a 2017 AICPA Trends report, only 9% of students enrolled in college accounting programs are black/African-American and 11% are Hispanic/Latino.
Diversity issues intensify as they flow from college and into the accounting industry itself. The same AICPA study showed that 1% of public accounting CPAs are black/African-American and 3% are Hispanic/Latino.
The scene is a bit better for women, who make up 40% of public accounting CPAs. But that number shrinks to 23% when looking at demographics for firm partners.
And let’s not even talk about ethnic minorities at the partner level—they’re practically non-existent.
While some firms have engaged in diversity and inclusion initiatives to alleviate these problems, many accounting practices are still very much boys’ clubs—or more accurately, heterosexual white boys’ clubs.
Looking for an accounting job at a diverse company? Scroll to the bottom of this article to apply for open accounting jobs at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Diverse businesses make more money
The lack of diversity in the accounting industry raises obvious ethical questions regarding corporate culture and policy. But the impact of a non-diverse workforce could be financial as well.
In a 2015 study, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
We chatted with Trey White, vice president, controller, and chief accounting officer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (No. 33 nationally on Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity and the highest-ranked company in Tennessee.) He shared his thoughts with us about diversity in accounting and in the business world in general.
“We recognize that the accounting profession is not historically known to be ethnically diverse,” White said. “That’s why we are committed to investing our resources to support a more inclusive accounting culture. We recently started an Employee Resource Group (ERG) aimed at increasing alignment between our corporate diversity strategies and our Accounting and Financial Reporting Division.”
According to White, if accounting is going to improve equality, it’s going to need to look outward as well as inward.
“We’re also extending our efforts beyond our walls and into the community to address the disparity of minority students enrolled in accounting programs. Our goal is to identify minorities who show an aptitude for an accounting-related field and help introduce them to the profession,” White said.
Diversity promotes creativity and boosts productivity
It’s been proven that diverse corporate teams generate more creative ideas and solve problems faster than their homogenous counterparts. We’re going a little old school here, but a 1996 study found that, when confronted with the same business challenge, ethnically and gender-diverse groups devised solutions that were more feasible and more effective than those proposed by homogenous groups.
Going even more old school, a 1993 research paper examined the effect of diversity on overall business performance. Citing infighting and cultural differences, this study reported that diverse groups initially struggled to analyze and solve business cases, while homogenous groups performed better. But the diverse groups’ results improved over time. They took the lead over the homogenous groups at the 17-week mark and continued to outperform them for the remainder of the experiment.
This data seems to suggest that, while diversity may initially cause inefficiency due to disparate attitudes, over time those distinctions become a business advantage.
We don’t yet know exactly why diversity improves performance. But one logical guess would be that assembling people with differing perspectives and mindsets results in a wider variety of ideas—thus creating a larger probability that the team will arrive at the “best” solution.
“The differences in our backgrounds and experiences open up many gateways for fresh ideas, creativity, and better checks and balances,” White said. “Additionally, when everyone feels valued—not just accepted or tolerated but valued—I believe that the engagement and productivity meter goes way up.”
Diverse businesses have happier clients
The accounting sector may be behind in matters of equality, but the industries it serves often aren’t. Everyone needs an accountant, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference.
Businesses with diverse talent pools will naturally look for diversity when choosing an accounting firm. And diverse internal accounting departments can better meet the needs within their companies and for their customers by providing a wider range of viewpoints and solutions.
In her book Crafting the Customer Experience For People Not Like You, Kathy McDonald argues that today’s businesses “must understand and cater to customers’ racial, ethnic, religious, generational, and geographic differences” in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace.
Creating a new culture
Unfortunately, many corporate diversity programs are created as knee-jerk reactions to political stimuli. They’re often cynical PR stunts that fade away before making any real impact on the business.
For equality to become the norm in the business world, the entire corporate culture needs to shift. Businesses must go beyond hiring initiatives and find ways to embrace inclusiveness in everything they do.
“At BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, we have been intentional about cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce, and that begins by making these efforts a core part of our strategy and mission,” White said. “We realize that the needs of a diverse workforce are ever-changing, and that’s why we have made a long-term commitment to this effort.”
Diversity in action
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) is a great example of a company that’s walking the diversity walk, and one you should consider working at if diversity is important to you.
“We want our workforce to mirror the people we serve,” White said. “It starts with a diverse board of directors and executive team. From there, our efforts carry through all levels of management with diversity goals tied to executive incentive packages. We believe this is the right way to do business.”
BCBST offers a number of benefits for LGBTQ workers, including domestic partner healthcare benefits and transgender benefits. The company was recently ranked as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ employees, scoring a 95% on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for corporate policies and practices relating to LGBTQ workplace equality.
The company has also been lauded for its efforts in creating opportunity for women. It ranked No. 30 nationally on Forbes’ 2018 “Best Employers for Women” list, making it the highest-ranked Tennessee-based company and the second-highest-ranked company in the insurance sector. Its inclusion on the list was well-deserved, as 73% of the BCBST workforce and nearly 60% of its management team are comprised of women.
One area that’s often left out of the equality discussion is physical ability. Not so at BCBST, which provides special accessibility features and accommodations for those who self-identify as differently-abled and actively works to recruit and retain those employees.
It’s clear that BCBST is fully committed to creating a diverse work environment that goes beyond the simple objective of tolerance, striving instead to build a company that truly values people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds.
“We don’t just talk about diversity—we put our words into actions with measurable goals,” White said. “We have made a long-term commitment to create a culturally competent workforce where everyone is valued and respected.”
Accounting job openings at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Want to join the diverse team at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee? Click one of the links below to apply for an open job.
Chattanooga, Tennessee accounting jobs
Financial Analyst, External Financial Reporting
Principal Consultant, Accounting Research & Policy