Deloitte commits $75M toward diverse CPAs

Cecilia Nysing

As a new decade gets underway, some efforts in the accounting profession remain unchanged — one of which being the desire to boost diversity and representation in an overwhelmingly white profession. In an industry where less than half of professionals believe the profession is equitable, it’s become clear that the issue will be an ongoing one for the foreseeable future. Firms and professional associations have been steadily increasing their commitment to diversity-related causes, but hard change remains evasive.

Big Four firm Deloitte has now joined these diversity efforts in a big way, announcing Wednesday a $75 million commitment in order to boost the number of diverse CPAs through the newly launched Making Accounting Diverse and Equitable (MADE) initiative.

MADE’s primary mission is to “attract diverse individuals into the accounting field and support them as they chart their pathway from high school to business professional to leadership in the profession,” according to the firm.

“More times than not, the middle schools or high schools [Black and Latinx students] are attending don’t have a course in accounting, or even business,” Thalia Smith, audit and assurance partner at Deloitte, told Accounting Today. “Secondly…there is less likely a chance that there would be someone in the accounting profession living in their communities. And so that was the first thing we had to address and what we talked to HBCUs about [was] to commit funding … to help them with the curriculum that will help them become the accountant of the future.”

Of the total $75 million commitment, $30 million will fund scholarships over the next six years for minority students pursuing a fifth-year, accounting master’s program in the United States. Scholarships will cover tuition at partnering universities, with applications for the 2022 school year being accepted this fall.

“[When] talking to colleges, and the community, we really identified a number of issues,” said Lara Abrash, CEO of Deloitte’s US Audit & Assurance business, to Accounting Today. “Number one, lack of awareness of what an [accounting] career is…and what the roles are that you can get. The college preparedness, the readiness, the financial hardship of that fifth year is also a significant barrier if you’re trying to choose one career over another. And then the passage of the CPA exam is another one. What we heard a lot from our Black and Latinx professionals is that they would join a firm…and have to work, take care of their families, and try and study for that CPA exam, all at the same time.”

The remaining $45M of Deloitte’s commitment will fund a number of diversity-focused initiatives, including:

  • Stride CPA readiness program: Deloitte will look to prepare students to sit for the CPA exam with real-time access to experienced CPA tutors, with up to 13-weeks of full-paid, dedicated study time, and covered exam costs. The inaugural Stride CPA readiness program will launch this summer.
  • Deloitte Academy: Accounting Edition: Deloitte will team with high schools, colleges, state CPA societies and nonprofits to introduce accounting and finance careers earlier to underrepresented youth across the country.
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)/Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSI) strategy: The firm will support HBCU and HSI faculty and leadership with the funding of a future-forward curriculum.
  • Climb Fellowship program: A collaboration with academia to launch a fellowship program targeted at giving mid-career diverse accounting professionals an opportunity to create a community and position them for more senior roles within their respective organizations.
  • MADE Working Group: Racially and ethnically diverse business, academic and community leaders bring a vast array of experiences and individual passions to advance equity and inclusion. A group of diverse business, academic and community leaders that will provide external perspectives, challenge common thinking, and create a forum to engage with one another.

The MADE initiative and its various programs will supplement Deloitte’s goal of increasing its number of Black and Hispanic/Latinx hires in the US by 50% by 2025.

“The business imperative [for diversity] isn’t just for the people we serve,” Abrash said. “When you bring in people who are not like-minded together, you always get a better answer. It’s harder…But if you want the best business answer, it’s not going to come from people who are like-minded.”

“When we look at the fact that the number of CPAs who are Black are 1%, Latinx about 3% — when we see that number increase… when we see the number of Black partners and CFOs or board members increase, that, for us, would mean success,” Smith added. “I got lucky to be introduced to the accounting profession in middle school; I got lucky that someone introduced me to Deloitte my sophomore year. …. And for us, this whole entire commitment is about reducing that luck factor. If we can inform and inspire and influence, we believe that we can change the numbers.”

Deloitte Canadian office in Ottawa

Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

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