NABA looks to partner with firms to diversify accounting profession

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The National Association of Black Accountants is hoping to expand its partnerships with accounting firms and corporate America to bring more diversity to the accounting profession.

NABA chairman Herschel Frierson, a managing director at Crowe LLP, talked about some of the challenges that Black accountants are still facing, despite the commitments made by corporate leaders and accounting firm managing partners earlier this year after the killing of George Floyd sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the world. “I think we’re all as a profession continuing to figure out ways to move the needle,” he said at a press conference Monday during Financial Executives International’s Corporate Financial Reporting Insights Virtual Conference. “I’m seeing more firms reach out to us, not only with existing relationships but expanding those relationships. We’re definitely seeing a lot of firms really look to find new ways to move the needle. I’m appreciative of all of our existing as well as potential new corporate partners reaching out to us to figure out what we can do differently.”

Aaron Anderson, vice president and treasurer at PayPal Holdings, thinks it will be a while before companies and firms can meet the commitments they made this year, however (see story). “We’ve seen a lot of commitments, but I think it’s too early to see progress yet,” he said at the same press conference. “Most accounting programs are five-year programs and then most corporates hire out of firms for their more entry-level staff. We’re on a journey together, and I think that’s the important point here. We can’t find ourselves saying we didn’t make progress last month, or we didn’t make progress even last year. The reality is that we’re starting on this journey, and it will probably take us five-plus years before we start to be able to answer with a definitive yes that we’ve seen progress. And even then, it may be longer.”

Frierson credited the work done by past NABA leaders going back to the organization’s founding in 1969. “They have done so much for the profession in getting us to this point in 50 years,” he said during the Zoom session he shared with Anderson. “I just feel like I cannot personally let them down. I’m here because of them.”

National Association of Black Accountants chairman Herschel Frierson, a managing director at Crowe LLP

Another motivating factor for him is more personal. He recounted an experience he had while interning between high school and college as a young accountant for National City Bank (now PNC Bank) in Kentucky: “It was in this big black building downtown, and I was having a great experience,” said Frierson. “You know how you go through things in life and it only lasts a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity? One day, I got on the elevator with a white lady, and we made eye contact. She immediately clutched her purse and she jumped off the elevator and went to the other elevator on the other side that happened to be open. I didn’t know how to react at first. There were a lot of emotions going on. I got to my floor and made a beeline to the bathroom. There were tears in my eyes and I was angry. I cursed that woman. She just thinks I’m a little Black boy that was going to rob her and do this to her. Damn her, damn her. In that moment, I said, you know what? I’m going to prove that lady wrong. She put a fire in me that’s still there to this day. I still remember her face. If I ever meet that lady, I’m going to thank her because she put a fire in me. Whenever I think that I am not performing, whether it’s in my job at Crowe or at NABA, I think of that lady. I’m going to prove you wrong. Whenever I’m at a point where I’m not motivated, I think of that lady.”

At NABA he has been working to build partnerships with companies and firms so they can increase diversity and build more opportunities so Black faces won’t look so out of place in corporate America. “We see that the numbers haven’t changed to where we need them to be,” said Frierson. “So, you be that person, you be that company that makes a change. Partner with NABA. Let us help you. Let’s help each other to not only change the profession and make your organization better, but make our community better as well. Be intentional, like yes, we are going to partner with NABA because we don’t have anyone that looks like Herschel in our halls or in the profession. Be intentional and don’t make any excuses or apologize for it.”

Anderson believes more accounting organizations need to make more of an effort to be diverse, so young people can say, “Wow, people that look like me go into this profession.”

“That’s when you’re going to see progress,” he added. “That’s when it will kick into gear. You don’t need to be as intentional to have your high school teaching them about accounting because we’ll get there as a profession. I think the commitment here and the lifting as we climb is so impactful. We all have that obligation as leaders in our profession. It’s not just going to be one lift. It’s going to be, for me, the rest of my career. That’s what I think we have to accept is something that we’re going to be committed to and committed over the long term.”

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Diversity and equality Racism PayPal Practice management Crowe