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Black accounting educators reflect on profession’s progress

Written on Feb 2, 2023

By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager  

While the profession continues its efforts to increase diversity in the pipeline, Black accounting educators recognize the progress that’s been made and how far there is still left to go.  

“The likelihood of you walking in anywhere and seeing anyone that looks like you are not high, the numbers are not in your favor,” said Kelly Richmond Pope, CPA, Ph.D., Dr. Barry Jay Epstein endowed professor of accounting in the School of Accounting and Management Information System at DePaul University. 

In 2019, an AICPA survey found that only 2% of CPAs are Black, and only 1% of partners at CPA firms are Black.  

Pope teaches managerial accounting and graduate financial principles of forensic accounting. She’s the faculty advisor for the NABA chapter of DePaul and said she does not have many diverse students in her classes. Before becoming an accounting educator, Pope worked in the forensic practice at KPMG.  

While there has been progress made for Black CPAs, Pope said, “… historically accounting has not been a welcoming culture, because it's a very homogeneous work environment.” She said while it’s encouraging to see many firms and companies start diversity initiatives, it’s critical for them to think through what they’re creating to ensure there is a genuine effort for results and change. Some efforts fall flat because they lack a true mission or passion for the work.  

“I do commend the firms for the efforts that they're making, I think they're doing the best that they can,” Pope said. “But I think you need to tap well-known public-facing CPAs of color to speak on behalf of the mission.”   

Kecia Williams Smith, CPA, Ph.D., teaches an auditing principles class and financial applications at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and has also worked at Deloitte and the PCAOB. 

“The profession now understands that there must be more awareness and make sure that people in society understand the value proposition for our country,” Smith said. “There has been some meaningful progress in the last couple of years, but probably not at the pace that is necessary to sustain what we need.”  

Smith said during Black History Month she always shares Black history moments in accounting with her classes, and reminds them, “… whatever we are doing, we are making history.”  

Pope said while taking the CPA exam years ago she read, “A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921,” by Theresa A. Hammond and that it served as an inspiration for her mindset into joining the accounting profession.  

“There was once a time when someone that looked like me could not even sit for the CPA exam,” she said. “It is my responsibility, not only to sit but to excel. And so, I felt like my ancestors were a part of me and I was studying to better the path for those who came before me.”   

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