The Kentucky CPA Journal


Diversity and Inclusion: A conversation we must have

Issue 3

July 20, 2020

By Harold T. Little Jr., Ph.D., CPA and Samantha Soutar

Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion remain elusive for the accounting profession. These words are from a 2012 Journal of Accountancy article titled “In Pursuit of Inclusion” by Ken Tysiac. Tysiac went on to say, as the AICPA celebrated its 125 anniversary, diversity and inclusion in all aspects – racial, gender, socioeconomic – must be a major focus of the profession. Professor Tysiac’s words still hold true in 2020. Yet, research shows teams that are diverse and inclusive are 2x more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, 3x more likely to be high performing, 6x more likely to be innovative and agile, and 8x as likely to achieve better business outcomes (Bourke & Dillon, The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution: 8 Powerful Truths, 2018). Studies also show diversity and inclusion improve employee recruitment, engagement and retention (Bourke, Smith, Stockton, & Wakefield, 2014).

KyCPA Diversity and Inclusion Committee

In 2017, the Kentucky Society of CPAs Board of Directors created a task force to study diversity and inclusion of the CPA profession in Kentucky and recommend actions that would make KyCPA, and the accounting profession more inclusive and diverse. In June 2020, the Board of Directors approved the transition of the task force to a permanent committee.

The committee has used the mantra “include everyone, exclude no one” as a central refrain in deciding what diversity and inclusiveness should look like for Kentucky. Race, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender identification, disabilities, religion and nationality are characteristics that the profession must consider if it is to be genuinely inclusive and diverse. These characteristics are not easy to discuss. However, the committee recognizes that being uncomfortable while considering some of these attributes is the only way to address them and provide meaningful recommendations to the Board.

Committee plans

The committee is following a four-phased process to develop recommendations to promote not only diversity of the profession and inclusion of underrepresented groups, but that will also increase the percentage of these individuals studying, pursuing and remaining in the accounting profession. 

The four phases are:

  1. Data collection.
  2. Data analysis.
  3. Identification of areas of concern.
  4. Create recommendations to address identified areas of concern.

The committee would like to have a substantive measure of the CPA population in Kentucky and what it looks like as a whole. Based on current statistics, underrepresented groups make up 29 percent of the professional staff, 16 percent of the CPAs, and 9 percent of the partners of firms (AICPA) [Table 1]. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s statistics provide little information to make legitimate statements about the proportion of the CPA population of Kentucky (KyCPA) [Table 2].

Call to action

To implement phase one, the committee designed a survey to gather data from CPAs working in Kentucky. The committee hopes to collect information about diversity and inclusion in the workforce, whether CPAs feel, sense or have knowledge of discrimination or harassment in their place of work, whether CPAs feel like they meet the expectations of their organizations and whether they think their performance is fairly evaluated. In the early weeks of August, the committee will email the survey to every identifiable CPA in Kentucky, whether the individual is a member of the Society or not.

The survey asks for opinions on four primary areas:

  1. diversity, inclusion and corporate culture,
  2. discrimination and harassment,
  3. group member importance,
  4. evaluation and promotion processes.

While these are topics that could be surveyed and examined individually, the committee feels a preliminary collection of data is a vital first step.

Participation is crucial as the data will guide the committee in creating its recommendations for the KyCPA Board of Directors to be used in their efforts to increase the diversity of Kentucky’s CPA population, decrease barriers to the profession for those least represented and maximize the inclusion of all. The future makeup of the CPA community serves in the public’s interest and the general good of society. The survey is brief and will only take a few minutes to complete.

Next steps

A diverse workforce is a company’s lifeblood, and different perspectives and approaches have been shown to be critical elements in solving complex and challenging business issues. Deriving the value of diversity means uncovering all available and qualified talent, and that means creating a workplace characterized by inclusion (Bourke, Smith, Stockton, & Wakefield, 2014).

The reality is that as the CPA profession falls behind in creating a diverse and inclusive environment, other professions are thriving because of it. With your support through survey participation, creating a dialogue and recognizing our unconscious bias, we will begin to make strides towards a profession that is a true reflection of our population.

Look for the survey to hit your inboxes the second week of August. We urge you to participate and share this opportunity with your peers; again, it will only take a few minutes of your time. As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know; we need your help educating Kentuckians and this is our first step.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, please contact Samantha Soutar.

Table 1. Diversity of the CPA Profession – 2019

Source: 2019 AICPA Trends Report (Complete Table on page 7)

Table 1

Other* consist of American Indian/Alaskan Native and individuals who identified as other.

Table 2. Diversity of the Kentucky Society of CPAs

Source: April 2020 Kentucky Society of CPAs Member Demographics Report

Table 2

About the authors:

Harold Little, Jr., Ph.D., CPA, is a member of KyCPAs' Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Harold is a retired accounting college educator. He has been a KyCPA member since 2000 and served on several other committees, the Educational Foundation Board of Trustees and on the Board of Directors.

Samantha Soutar is the membership development manager of the Kentucky Society of CPAs and staff liaison to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She can be reached at

Diversity and Inclusion webinars

Inclusion in the Accounting Profession: What It Looks Like Today - August 13 (2-3:30 p.m.)

Recognizing and Neutralizing Bias - September 14 (2-3:30 p.m.)