When I started my career in the accounting profession three decades ago, I was part of a mere 1% of African Americans in the field who were Certified Public Accountants. We are now approaching the 2020s, and that number has increased… to just 4 percent. In all, just 29 percent of accountants are minorities.

This is an alarming statistic. The past decade has seen an embracing of diversity and inclusion from the business world. Many have hired Chief Diversity Officers, while others have incorporated programs as a larger part of their HR initiatives. To that end, we are seeing progress in attitude changes. The business world is embracing a workforce with differences in background and perspectives.

In order to continue this momentum, efforts from those that educate our future workforce are of great importance. Establishing Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) principles as a value for aspiring accountants and all types of business professionals at colleges and universities can help increase appreciation for its value and, little by little, help establish a broader culture of inclusiveness across the board. An increase in diversity ratios will not be enough – a fundamental change in culture and how we approach organizational priorities is necessary. If executed right, there will be a majority of admired ‘best places to work’ that show both a collection of quality professionals who have different life experiences.

My position as Director of Diversity and Inclusion at IMA® has taken me to a lot of excited, ambitious students at colleges with top-notch programs in finance. One of my visits included an invitation from the president of a University’s student accounting club. This young lady had a specific focus on bringing successful accounting professionals, alumni and otherwise, and from different backgrounds and perspectives, to speak to her group on campus. This is an excellent example of how we can empower our next generation to think in an inclusive manner.

Expanding access for students’ professional networks can also lead to cultivation of mentor relationships. Alumni and professors alike can serve in this role. A good first step would be adding to the top level of administrations a Chief Diversity Officer. Effective, accountable leaders will have seen their initiatives trickle down to the student body. In addition to having a D&I leader in the administration, schools should make sure they are representing all students by partnering with the great organizations committed to diversity in their fields and able to create diverse student pipelines (in my case, highlighting the National Association of Black Accountants would be a great start!). Having a committed faculty advisor connecting students to these organizations’ events help them establish a presence and maybe grow into larger roles.

Some schools are already ahead of the curve and taken on such initiatives. For those that haven’t, creating an advisory group of students, faculty, alumni and school leadership can set the tone on how you’d like to approach D&I. This group can spearhead a business plan to present to the decision makers. As any big-undertaking, this will require full buy-in.  

We’re certainly in a better place now than when I got my start, but there is a heavy lift still required to incorporate Diversity and Inclusion into everyday life. Our young people and their educators provide a bright hope for a society with more rewarding and meaningful careers.