Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

Diversity: ‘It’s not just the right thing … it’s the smart thing’

The world has changed radically in the 45 years since Cecil Flamer entered the CPA profession.

Twelve men have walked on the moon. Eight presidents have occupied the Oval Office. We’ve witnessed astounding medical advances, horrifying wars and acts of terrorism, inspiring acts of service from people determined to make the world a better place, and mind-numbing technological advances that have put the world in the pockets and purses of nearly everyone we know.

It’s a different world, and it continues to change each day.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: African-Americans are still woefully underrepresented in the profession. At CPA firms, the percentage of new hires who are black hovers somewhere between 4 and 5 percent — this in an age when the minority population of the United States is rising sharply. By some estimates, minorities will become the majority in the United States by 2043.

And that’s not all. “Not only are these minority populations increasing as a percentage of the U.S. population,” the AICPA writes, “but so, too, is the buying power they wield.”

“I think there’s a great business case to be made (for increasing the profession’s diversity),” said Flamer, managing director at Brown Capital Management in Baltimore and a founding member of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. “The social and legal climate in our country today says to the smart business professional, ‘We need to make our organizations more diverse.’ They need to look more like the businesses that we’re doing business with. And it’s more than just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.”

In a taped conversation at the MACPA’s 2014 Business and Industry Conference, Flamer told me there’s a “richness of debate and thought” at diverse organizations that you don’t get in offices where most workers have similar backgrounds and mindsets. “The more diverse your group — whether we’re talking about women, racial differences, gender differences — the more the conversation can help your business deal with societal changes and issues in the global community.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the AICPA, NABA, the MACPA, other state CPA societies, and firms both large and small are spending more time lately promoting a more diverse profession. There have been some “pockets of excellence,” as Flamer calls them — particularly at places like Deloitte and EY (formerly Ernst & Young), where Flamer began his career in 1969, when the firm was known as Ernst & Ernst.

Still, as the numbers prove, a lot more needs to be done at the organizational level.

Knowing what he knows today, though, Flamer said he wouldn’t change much about the way he approached his career. He says it’s the same basic blueprint that young, African-American CPAs should follow today.

“In July 1969, I was one of 23 new hires at Ernst and Ernst — and the only African American,” Flamer said. “I had to go into the firm with the mindset that said, ‘I have an education. I know as much about accounting as anyone else coming into this organization because I had the same books they had. What I need to do is to work hard, apply myself in any opportunity that’s presented to me, and always do the best that I can — and I’ll just have to count on everything else taking care of itself.’”

It did. Flamer was named a partner at the firm in 1981.

The challenge now is opening the door wider so that more young CPAs have the same opportunity.

Read more about the profession’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, then watch my interview with Flamer in its entirety



Want to learn more?

The MACPA’s Board of Directors has created a Women’s and Diversity Initiatives Task Force to study the issues surrounding diversity in the profession and to “(c)reate a network of resources and relationships that enable and empower a diverse profession. The ultimate goal is to “deliver valuable programs, a breadth of perspectives, engaged participation, program growth, and changed thinking.”

Keep an eye on our blog for details as they become available.

The MACPA’s task force coincides with AICPA efforts to promote a more diverse profession. The latest initiative is an e-newsletter for AICPA members called “Inclusion Solutions” that centers on news and resources that promote diversity in the workplace. Sign up to receive the newsletter here.


Bill Sheridan