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It’s More than Numbers: Addressing the Lack of Diversity in Accounting
UC Davis has used this moment to educate others about the importance of equality and inclusion

2020 has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. The pandemic, the protests and outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery.

It’s one tragedy after another—when will it stop?

The injustice that we saw in Minneapolis and the death of many African Americans across the country this year has led many to protest in the streets in order to remind the world that Black lives matter—a seemingly minimum requirement, yet one we still need to debate in 2020.

Instagram photo

Like many of you, I am angry. I often feel hopeless. I’m saddened, and, frankly, I’m tired. The lack of regard for human life because of the color of one’s skin is disgusting and wrong. Regardless of our respective backgrounds, these traumatic events impact all of us. 

As we take time to reflect, learn and instill change, we must realize we are all in this together. The United States has never felt more divided. We need each other to beat COVID-19. We need each other to fight and obliterate systemic racism. This is the moment we come together.

In his historic and memorable “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. warned not to judge anyone based on the color of their skin, but instead by the content of their character. The color of our skin, the way we pronounce words, our rituals or our habits should not be nitpicked or criticized. Diversity is what makes us unique. It drives great ideas and produces thoughtful leaders.

DIVERSITY AT UC DAVIS

When I joined orientation for the UC Davis Master in Professional Accountancy program last fall, I quickly realized that I was the only African-American student in the program this year.

I often wondered why, and often times I did feel lonely as the so-called ‘only one.’ I asked about it and found out that many African Americans are just not applying. That reflects greater systemic problems in our educational system.

We need more opportunities for people of color to develop an interest in business earlier and open more doors and create pathways to attend top universities and business schools.

I am proud of the local response to the injustices that have ripped the scab off decades of racism in this country.

Led by Chancellor Gary May, UC Davis’ first African-American chancellor, the campus and leadership have denounced discrimination, and promoted our Principles of Community that underscore the importance of diversity and inclusion. 

Chancellor May has reaffirmed his commitment to campus safety, establishing a task force to discuss and assess how the university’s police department should evolve to look, operate and engage on both the Davis and Sacramento campuses.

Vice Chancellor Renetta Garrison Tull noted in her newsletter on June 11: “There have already been several meetings to do the work of reading and learning, developing action strategies, and implementing plans that will make units and departments more equitable. I encourage you to do that good work, so that the changes will challenge and address systemic issues, and so that the solutions that you put into place will last.”

Action for Diversity

At the Graduate School of Management, a faculty committee on diversity promotes resources to confront racism and build actionable allyship within the community.

Dean H. Rao Unnava has also launched an initiative for students, faculty, staff and alumni to come together to reflect, learn, plan and act against racism. It’s encouraging to see similar efforts at universities around the United States. Higher education is taking a proactive role in redoubling diversity efforts, so that we can build a stronger nation.

LACK OF DIVERSITY IN ACCOUNTING

As a Black man in accounting, I’ve seen firsthand the lack of diversity in the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7% of Black or African Americans in 2018 reported employment in accounting, tax preparation or payroll services industries.

Accounting firms are recruiting top talent, regardless of ethnicity, but more people of color must follow my path to create a pipeline of diversity. We must encourage people of color to pursue this path, and we must open doorways to ensure those opportunities grow.

Firms can do their part, too. They can promote diversity and inclusion, expand opportunities, such as internships to minorities, recruitment at more diverse universities, and create goals to meet these needs. I know the talent is out there; firms must find it.

I just recently completed the MPAc program. In my previous blog, I shared that I’m excited to start a full-time position with a Big Four international accounting firm this summer.

Carl Stearne MPAc 20

I look forward to that new challenge, but I know it won’t quiet the need for change.

WE CAN DO BETTER

I’ve dreaded having tough conversations with my kids about systemic racism. My daughter deserves a childhood without racism, without fear. My son should not believe this is normal. To see his dad as the only black man in a school’s professional accounting program. Those are the tough conversations I don’t want to have.

But I have to.

I have to let them know that this world might treat them differently because of the amount of melanin in their skin or the curl in their hair. If our culture does not change, they’ll face the same problems our ancestors did.

Notice how I referenced culture and not laws. Laws are simply words written down in a book—and they’ve been used against us, too, as another form of racism. As we’ve seen, another Civil Rights Act will not fix the issues of America. Our culture must change. We must open our minds and build acceptance for all.

African Americans are intelligent, capable, normal human beings. We want to be treated as though our lives matter, as though they are important. If one of us is killed, we deserve the appropriate amount of justice.

From the onset of slavery, through Jim Crow, and continuing today with mass incarceration, systemic racism has ravaged our opportunities to build a better life for ourselves. Only once we address these issues, and create a more inclusive, diverse culture will we become great. We can’t do it alone. We must do it, together.

Editor’s note: If you’ve been saddened, angry or rundown from the latest tragedies in our country, you can find support via the office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion’s website, “Resources for Racial Trauma.”