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Here’s Another Reminder That Accounting Firms Used to Be Pretty Racist Back In the Day

Those of us who grew up post-civil rights take for granted just how bad things used to be. Sure, if you were a generic white guy maybe your odds of scraping together a half-decent life weren’t too bad, but for everyone else life was a constant chess game of “Who Shall Oppress Me Today?” From jobs to housing to bank accounts, life was rough for anyone who at all deviated from the milquetoast majority.

Obviously there’s still progress to be made. Which is why it helps sometimes to think about just how far we as a society have come. For example, up until 1974 women needed a man to co-sign any credit application. Can you imagine, a grown-ass woman needing to bring a man along just to open a credit card? It seems wild when you consider it through our modern lens; however, it’s not that far away when you really stop to think about it.

Speaking of things that happened not that long ago, this year marks 100 years since the first black CPA was licensed in the United States. Unfortunately, the profession has a lot of work left to do on the topic of diversity and inclusion, having made little progress since John Cromwell Jr. was licensed. At the time he graduated from Dartmouth in 1906, it was impossible for him to meet the requirements for licensure due to needing experience, which he couldn’t get as no one would hire black accountants. In 1921, the state of New Hampshire waived the experience requirement for qualified candidates and Cromwell was finally able to sit for the exam. Even 40 years after he was licensed, he was the only black CPA in Washington, DC.

Cromwell paved the way for guys (and gals) like Lester McKeever, the octagenarian former chair of the Chicago Fed who struggled to find work in the 1950s as a black accountant.

Just check out this quote from a recent Black Enterprise interview in which McKeever recalls how he couldn’t even get interviews, much less client work, back in those days:

McKeever believes that mentorship and networking are important in your career. They were the link that helped him secure a job when major corporations were not hiring Black people.

“When I graduated from college, the Big 8 accounting firms and large corporations did not hire African Americans,” says Mckeever. “My university forced one firm to give me the courtesy of an interview. They said they couldn’t hire me because their clients wouldn’t accept me.”

Attitudes may have changed but representation still lags behind. It’s only in the last few years that the AICPA had its first black chairman. African Americans make up less than 1% of all licensed CPAs in the United States, a number that has remained largely unchanged for 40 years.

The key to real change, says McKeever, is giving back.

“Being Black limited your opportunities,” he said about his early career in the 1950s. “But showing true concern for your client’s success and working to improve your community provides unexpected benefits. When you give to others, you gain more than you give in trying to help.”

Who knows, maybe Gen Z is so far removed from segregation and civil rights that they’ll be the ones to spur true diversity. We can only hope (no pressure).

7 thoughts on “Here’s Another Reminder That Accounting Firms Used to Be Pretty Racist Back In the Day

  1. I was an assurance partner at Deloitte when the Lehman crisis happened. D let more than 10% of its assurance staff over a couple of rounds then. Every time I saw the list of people who were let to go, 80% of them were minorities.

  2. The author is a racist and vulgar pig, arrogantly judging people from a 100 plus year hence. I would not be surprised that a 100 years hence, she will be deemed a monster herself.

    1. Wow. I don’t know what emotions this triggered you here John, but it shows that you need a hug. I don’t want to be quick to judge here, but since you are quick to pull the trigger on what the author is deemed to be appear as a monster 100 years from now, I’m super curious to what your staff/partners/family/clients “deem” you as today.

  3. I knew that the mere suggestion that your personal lives might be scrutinized by future generations and found severely lacking would cause you to bristle. Each generation has its evils, we examine our lives, reform and grow, but this self-serving, wholesale condemnation of previous generations is childish and unjust. Here’s a simple example of how future generations will judge you a “monster”, there is a nascent but growing movement that having pets is seriously evil: animals were only domesticated to help humans kill other animals, and the relationship has been exploitative ever since. Humans as “masters” confining and chokeholding dogs (think about everytime you walk your dog and it wants to go its own direction), big dogs in kept in small apartments (you are maintaining a concentration camp), etc. Think about your desire for a variety of cheap proteins so you enable the confinement and slaughter of animals to suit to your culinary tastes. All your talk about climate change, but you still want cheap gas and heat: all talk and no action. Generations in the future will be spitting on your grave because they are frying or under water. How most of us neglect to some degree or other older relatives and nieces and nephews. And the list goes on. If you live in an echo-chamber, of course, none of this will make sense.
    How do close people “deem” me”, easy-going except when I encounter hypocrisy and arrogance.

    1. I got bored with your response after “mere suggestion.” I’m sure you’re great to hang out with at parties. This comment section is actually dumber from having to read your response.

    2. Sir, please take a chill pill.

      You’re a white dude, aren’t you? Because your comment and going straight to name calling the author for writing actual history screams “mediocre white boomer who is mad when racism gets called out”.

      Please use this same energy on calling out and pushing for equality. You just caused this comment section to lose a few IQ points from your bizarre tirade.

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