Promotion And Retention Of African American Accountants In The 21st Century US Public Accounting Profession: A Summary Of Findings And A Call For Action

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Louis J. Stewart
Jean Wells
Frank Ross


Public Accounting, Career Advancement, African American, Professional Services Firms


While African American CPAs have experienced some considerable progress in the US public accounting profession over the past thirty years, their level of participation in the profession remains far below their representation in the general US population. While federal government data suggest that African American men and women constitute over 11% of US business graduates, the AICPA estimates that only 4% of the major firms employment. Moreover, the rate of black CPA participation appears to fall as ones analysis moves up the ladder of the professions largest firms. The AICPA reports that less than 1% of the partners from the major firms are African American accounting professionals. Our study seeks to answer two basic questions. One, why is the level of African American participation in management of the major firms so low? Two, what actions should the major firms leadership, African American accounting practitioners, and accounting educators take to improve the level of African American participation in management of the major firms? Our empirical data is drawn from three recent surveys of predominantly African American accountants and a dozen structured interviews of a racially diverse group of Big 4 firm managers and partners. We reached three major conclusions. One, there are a disproportionately low number of African American accountants in the management pipeline of the major firms. Two, our structured interviews with successful (managers and partners) accounting professionals of both races makes it clear that the road to management is a rigorous path for all professionals regardless of race. Three, many of the few black accountants within the major firms have become discouraged due to lack of key resources for success and search for other professional opportunities. Our conclusions form the basis for a variety of recommendations for employers, aspiring African American professionals, established African American accounting practitioners, the AICPA, the PCAOB.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Section 1 presents a brief review of this papers relevant research literature and the three research questions that are motivated by the results of our literature search. Section 2 describes the various survey designs and structure interviews that we used to gather this studys empirical data. We discuss our findings in Section 3. We offer some recommendations for corrective action in Section 4.


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