How a landmark AICPA resolution helped diversify the profession.

Author:Drumgo, Kim
 
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Fifty years ago, there were only 150 black CPAs in the nation. Take a look at how the profession has changed.

The 1960s are known for being a time of change in America. The decade saw the March on Washington in 1963, Vietnam War protests, and the first moon landing; social, political, and scientific norms were being challenged. The accounting profession also was affected by the upheaval the country was experiencing at this time. In 1969, the AICPA Council passed a landmark resolution that opened doors of opportunity for people of color to attain CPA licensure. The 50th anniversary of this resolution is the perfect time to reflect on the origins and progress of diversity and inclusion efforts in the accounting profession and to consider next steps organizations can take to move forward (see the sidebar "Next Steps").

BARRIERS FOR MINORITY ACCOUNTANTS AT MIDCENTURY

In 1969, there were fewer than 150 black CPAs in America, less than 0.15% of all CPAs. At midcentury, many accountants from minority backgrounds struggled to attain CPA status, largely because they had difficulty finding employment at CPA firms and thus weren't able to meet their states' experience requirements for licensure. In 1951 Talmadge Tillman, for example, chair of the accounting department at Texas Southern University and the first black person to receive an MBA from Syracuse University, was offered a job with a CPA firm over the phone. When the interviewer met Tillman in person, though, he rescinded the offer. (Tillman did go on to work for a CPA firm, become a CPA, and earn a Ph.D. in accounting.) Another black accountant, William Collins, was told in the 1950s by a recruiter that the firm he was interviewing for had only recently started employing Asians and Jewish people but had "not come around" yet to hiring African Americans.

However, the 1960s also brought about a change in the profession's acceptance of minority accountants. In 1965, Hugh K. McKee of Alaska, a white AICPA Council member, proposed that the AICPA adopt a resolution that would declare that "there should be no discrimination because of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin in the employment practices of individuals or firms engaged in the practice of accounting." In her book, A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921, accounting professor Theresa Hammond, Ph.D., notes that this was reportedly the first time the AICPA had been addressed on the issue of African Americans in the profession.

Without being seconded, the proposal lay dormant for four years. However, during that time, many AICPA members grew increasingly uncomfortable with the absence of a clear stance on discrimination. In 1968, AICPA President Ralph Kent declared that discrimination was in opposition to the profession's values.

Subsequently, the AICPA launched an 11-person committee, of which five members were black CPAs, called the Committee on Recruitment From Minority Groups. Chaired by Edwin R. Lang, a partner from Haskins & Sells, the committee drafted a different resolution that was presented and passed after extensive debate during the Council meeting in 1969. The text of the resolution read as follows:

  1. That a special campaign be undertaken to encourage young men and...

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