Simple steps toward diversity that deliver real benefits

April 29, 2019

When you walk into a meeting of your local chamber of commerce or an industry association, what do you see? In many cases, small firm owners may find a greater level of diversity than can be found in their own firms. In Minneapolis where I live, for example, we have large communities of Somalis, Vietnamese and Latinos. Many of them are small business owners, just like generations of new immigrants before them. At the same time, nearly 12 million companies across the United States are owned by women, including 39% of all privately held businesses, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. These clients and potential clients want to work with CPA firms that reflect their own diversity.

I think many organizations have a familiarity bias that tends to lead us to hire those whose lives are familiar to ours in some ways, whether that means we share similar lifestyles or cultures or are the same gender. These unconscious decisions can lead us to perpetuate a lack of diversity within our firms. Smaller firms don’t hire at the rate of larger ones, so it can take us longer to start to shift the makeup of the firm.

If you’d like to make change in your firm, PCPS has recently released the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, a robust resource that helps you achieve key goals that include:

  • Attracting diverse talent and clients. This step will not succeed without full leadership buy-in. Even if leadership consists of yourself and perhaps a couple of other partners, your effort will be more effective if you understand why embracing diversity is important to your firm. Turn to a special resource in the toolkit that offers compelling statistics to convince you of the value of a diverse team. Did you know, for example, that inclusive teams have been found to outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments? And that 72% of Americans would or may consider leaving a company for one they think is more inclusive? If you want another persuasive argument, think about the clients you’ve worked with for many years. You may have built a strong relationship and can count on their loyalty, but many of these leaders are now being replaced with members of a younger generation who don’t have solid ties with your firm and who may want to work with professionals who better reflect the current marketplace. A diverse firm will have an edge in holding on to or attracting these clients.
  • Recruiting diverse talent. Finding a more diverse talent base may mean expanding your recruiting horizons. The toolkit includes a diversity recruiting plan template with links to websites of Latino, Black and Asian accounting associations where you can post jobs, as well as information about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). There are tips on finding diverse talent at job fairs, hosting informational sessions, developing internship programs that can lead to hiring diverse staff, and involving staff in your efforts. An informative checklist of tips for effective on-boarding explains ways to make diverse employees truly feel welcome and included. By adding people who have been underrepresented in your practice, you will benefit from a wider perspective and, possibly, easier outreach to new businesses and clients.
  • Retaining and advancing diverse talent. Effective coaching, mentoring and sponsorship can help you nurture your talent and keep your best people. To ensure your efforts are successful, turn to the toolkit’s links to the PCPS Mentoring Toolkit, the AICPA Online Mentoring Program and the coaching guide for managers; the Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee’s CPA Firm Sponsorship Success Toolkit is another great resource. You can also get great information--and save yourself some turnover costs and inconvenience--by conducting “stay” interviews. Using a resource in the toolkit, you can take proactive steps to hold on to great people based on what your interviews tell you about the work environment and employee satisfaction.

You can find additional diversity and inclusion resources on In addition, you may be interested in attending the 2019 AICPA Accounting Profession Diversity Symposium occurring May 15-17, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. This event brings together accounting firms, state societies, colleges and universities, and other organizations to incubate fresh ideas and breakthrough strategies that will help the profession sustain a pipeline of diverse talent.

I’d also like to mention a great new AICPA initiative, the PCPS George Willie Ethnically Diverse Student Scholarship and Internship. This program provides internship opportunities for ethnically diverse undergraduate or graduate accounting students at selected cosponsoring firms. It also gives the students up to $20,000 in financial assistance to encourage them to ultimately enter the CPA profession. The program is now accepting student applications through the end of May and is specifically seeking students in the geographic areas of the cosponsoring firms. Visit for more details on cosponsoring firm locations and the program.

Make a difference

The world is getting more, not less, diverse. CPA firms that reflect the world around them will make a difference in their communities and reap the many benefits of a more diverse workplace.

Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on June 27 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.