Tax & accounting firms are facing a challenge finding diverse talent amid an industry-wide talent scarcity, but creating a diverse talent pipeline can certainly help
Talent acquisition has repeatedly made the top five list of challenges facing tax & accounting firms. In fact, according to Thomson Reuters recent Insights for Tax Professionals 2021 report, 60% of firms surveyed planned to hire new talent this year. Further, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) had predicted that 75% of their members would be eligible for retirement by 2020, noting that even if just a fraction of that number leaves the profession, it will greatly add to these talent and hiring challenges.
Beyond the convenience of using LinkedIn and other hiring platforms, tax & accounting firms rely heavily on on-campus college recruiting, even though this changed significantly in 2020 when firms pivoted to virtual campus recruiting. However, these methods were insufficient to increase the pipeline of diverse candidates unless there were active and intentional components in place to reach diverse talent in the recruitment outreach.
It has been noted that although many firms have written statements describing their policies around diversity and inclusion, a recent LinkedIn study shows that only 47% of firms that have diversity initiatives feel their hiring managers are held accountable for how many diverse candidates are interviewed. And a few years ago, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sided with defendants who said a social media platform prevented certain job ads from reaching diverse candidates.
Despite this apparent lack of concerted effort around diverse hiring, there are numerous research reports which attest to why having a diverse workforce goes beyond the right thing to do but rather is as an important principle in a firm’s financial success. Indeed, one study showed that diverse teams produced 20% more revenue than less diverse firms; and teams that are diverse and inclusive, make faster and better business decisions up to 87% of the time.
For tax & accounting firms, the challenge of finding diverse talent is even greater because the industry itself is facing a scarcity of available talent.
Becoming diverse: What can your firm do?
For firms wishing to grow their pipeline to include more diverse talent, there are pathways to follow. In a recent webinar, Dr. Kecia Williams Smith, director of the Master of Accountancy Program at North Carolina A&T State University, stated that part of her work in academia was to “help fix the crack in the talent pipeline” which keep students of diverse backgrounds who may be interested in accounting. The webinar also included three women professionals from academia, a top 100 accounting firm, and a prominent industry organization who how tax & accounting firms can solve for their diverse talent recruitment challenges.
Smith said that she and others are doing to what they can to keep and attract young blacks to the accounting profession and ensure that they have the tools pass the CPA exam. They are also strongly encouraging tax & accounting firms to recruit from historic Black colleges and universities (HBCU).
In addition to adding recruiting from HBCU, tax & accounting firms can partner with organizations like the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), which also works to build a pipeline of diverse talent by working with students as early as high school. By introducing and exposing students to the accounting profession early on, and highlighting the various careers path an accounting degree can afford them, NABA hopes to grow the pipeline.
In fact, its partnership with students continues through their college careers to provide resources to complete their CPA licensing process and into their continuing careers with places to network and seek career guidance. NABA also can be a resource for tax & accounting firms to find potential candidates — from high school students for internships, to accounting professionals at any stage of their careers
Karen Hill, director of Talent Acquisition & Staffing at Katz Sapper & Miller, offers these additional insights for and tax & accounting firms about their approach to diversity:
- Get the firm right first — Tax & accounting firms should be clear and honest about their intentions around diversity. What are the firms’ current practices when it comes to diversity? Is the firm ready to hire additional diverse candidates? One good measure would be to engage in firm-wide bias training — this can help unearth implicit biases and create a more welcoming work environment.
- Reach out continuously — To truly build a high-quality diverse pipeline of candidates, firms are encouraged to add prospects continuously, including having a presence at local high schools that have a lot of diverse students. There are several benefits to this strategy, especially that it exposes students to the firm and to the accounting profession by offering opportunities for work-study and scholarships.
- Diversity without inclusion is ornamental — Diversity should never be a check-the-box practice. Grand strategies and policies without the follow-through and accountability to make them happen can have a devastating impact on a firm’s current group of diverse employees and could lead to high turnover. One foundation of inclusivity is allyship, which starts with upper management and is woven throughout the firm.
For some tax & accounting firms, a significant challenge to not being able to access a diverse pipeline of candidates, is because of their geographic location or the cost of casting a wide net for recruitment. With the changes brought about by the pandemic and remote working, however, any firms now can search broadly for diverse talent on a much wider scale.
You can download a copy of the report, Insights for Tax Professionals 2021 here.