Women of Color in Accounting

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Like any other profession accounting has also been criticized for not allowing enough opportunities for women to work and seek out better positions within organizations. Women have struggled not only to make their way into the profession but also to survive the peer-pressures and gender discrimination they faced while working in different public and private organizations. There are several issues that have been identified related to hiring, retention, motivation and promotion of women of color in the organizations which need to be addressed for a better imagery of accounting profession which advocates itself as an equal opportunity profession. This paper will look at the problem of discrimination against women of color and through inquisitive research based on the literature and statistical data available the stance of equal opportunities for such women will be ascertained by identifying the current state of accounting profession and challenges faced by women of color. Finally, suggestions will be put forward to improve the working of women of color in the accounting profession.

Women of color have faced hardship in all aspects of life for several centuries and have been subject to racial discrimination on the basis of their skin color even in the accounting profession. Since 1910 when accounting was listed as an independent profession in U.S. Labor Statistics the number of black women joining accounting profession has been more than white women. However, their concentration remained in small firms having black clientele and it was not till enactment of legislation that prohibited discrimination against color during hiring process by national accounting firms. In 1970s the demand for women of color was on the rise as the overall requirements of the industry heightened. The then AICPA also started to promote accounting education amongst black women graduates and different schemes were conducted where public accounting firms were required to hire more of black graduates through their recruitment programs. However, the working conditions within organizations remained poor as more and more cases of discrimination against women of color surfaced. Most importantly it could be observed during this period that only handful of black women was able to reach managerial / executive positions in accounting firms (Wescott & Seiler, 1986). A research conducted in 1969 suggested that client dealings of accounting firms often indicate prejudice against women in general and individuals of color in particular. In certain cases this biasness prevented women to take on tasks opportunities that could be highly rewarding for them (Estes, 1973).

As the demand for professionals by the accounting industry is expected to rise in the coming years the intake of women of color is surely going to have an upward trend. However, companies and regulatory bodies need to prepare themselves in such a way that women of color could actually consider staying up in the firms for longer periods (Catalyst, 2008). The following paragraphs are going to discuss various researches which have been carried out examining the problems and issues of women of color.

A research carried out by Catalyst aimed at identifying the issues faced by women of color at work place. The report revealed that women of color faced different problems and were treated differently as compared to white women working in the accounting profession. The research was carried out by conducting survey of 1,424 respondents and provided an in-depth view of “intersectionality”. The report presented important findings regarding the increase in demand for professionals by the accounting industry and graduates that are sought for these positions are 50% women and women of color are major proportion of graduates applying for different positions in the accounting field. Major accounting firms have made additional efforts to hire women from diverse background, culture and ethnicity and have enrolled large number of women of color in their recruitment programs. This has been commented by L. Hang, President of Catalyst as “The accounting industry has made great strides towards building a more diverse and inclusive workplace….Working to further change the white, male, up-and-out culture to one that is more inclusive to women and people of color will not only expand opportunities for women of color in the accounting industry but also allow firms to attract and retain the best and brightest in the field” (SmartPros, 2008). However, despite of the major accounting firms taking the lead role in expanding ethnic and cultural diversity in their organizations women of color still face numerous difficulties at all stages of making their move into this profession.

It has been found that women of color face low esteem and self satisfaction while working for different accounting organizations as they face numerous issues and problems which are considered by them having deteriorating effect on their interest in work, progress within ranks and objectives of the organizations they are working for. The issues faced by women of color include employers’ tendency to support double standards within the organizational structures which are driven on the basis of race difference. Furthermore, women of color are facing lack of access to higher responsible engagements and reasonable promotion opportunities. Another research carried out by Catalyst suggested that 50% of women and men of color working in the accounting profession did not feel obligated to stay with their employers. The turnover amongst such individuals was high because of the demoralization and problems they faced in their organizations. The report commented discussed challenges faced by women of color suggesting that 29.1% of women of color consider leaving job by their first year of employment. The report emphasized on companies suggested that “Organizations that work to break down the ‘concrete ceiling’ that impedes the advancement of people of color will benefit by capitalizing on the full talent pool” (IMDiversity, 2007). Even accounting regulatory body ACCA has been blamed for its involvement in a case of racial discrimination however the appelant was a male employee (Accountancy, 2005). The reason for mentioning this here is that there is still a lot to do to address the issues of racial dscrimination against women and men alike by regulators and accounting firms which are dominantly led by white leaders.

There are several “pull” and “push” factors identified causing women of color to leave their accounting jobs. The pull factors pertain to high salary opportunities else where while on the other hand push factors are those which are pertaining to the working conditions within organizations. These include exclusionary conditions where women of color lack of access and openness in the accounting firms which keep women of color stay back and are not able to advance to higher responsible and rewarding positions (Bagati, 2007).

It has been suggested that in order to improve the image of accounting profession and allow women of color not only to join the profession but also to create a healthy diverse culture with organizations the top management of companies need to take proactive role. This can be achieved by taking certain initiatives which may include developing and maintaining a broader perspective of “intersectionality” so that women of color can have equal opportunities in the accounting profession (Giscombe, 2008). The companies should assess factors which affect the attitude and behavior of women of color and allow them to participate on an equal level as compared to others. This would not only help companies to build strong accountability systems but also generate newer ideas. Furthermore, retention of talent would be possible if women of color have a good understanding of diversity and inclusion practices which companies adopt as a part of their human resource policies.

Human resource management is considered essential for resolving problems and issues faced by women of color. Human resource manager and even departmental heads should work towards creating an environment within organizations which promotes collaborative efforts and respect for each other at all levels of operations. Major accounting firms have established and incorporated policies which address issues of discrimination on the basis of skin color and have clearly set out possible consequences if incidents involving discrimination on the basis of color are reported and proven. Effective communication facilitates interactions between women belonging to ethnic groups and others. Regular meetings should be held to ensure that employees from different ethnic backgrounds could develop a platform for themselves where they can address their problems so that necessary corrective measures could be implemented within accounting firms. Furthermore, managers should be held accountable for retention and motivation of women of color which are most suffered from this dilemma (Catalyst, 2009). Furthermore, companies should promote competition amongst employees regardless of the ethnic background and women of color should be given equal opportunities to demonstrate their potential and seek higher positions. The role of accounting regulatory bodies is also crucial in this regard.

It is clearly understood that accounting profession is governed by definite sets of rules and principles which not only lay out the framework for accounting and reporting of financial information but also deal with the role of accountants in the profession. Guidelines regarding equal treatment for those individuals with color variation should be clearly set out as the regulatory bodies are also criticized for cases of discrimination it is important for them to take stronger stance for discrimination against women of color.

In order to surmised on the research topic it could be stated that sexual discrimination in the accounting profession is no more the real issue as more and more women are entering into this field however, within organizations discrimination and biasness towards women of color is still something which needs to be addressed both at individual and corporate levels. As Katherine Giscombe (2008) commneted in her report that “certainly one thing that was agreed on by the audience is that there’s more work that needs to be done by accounting firms”. Different associations such as Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, the National Asian American Society of Accountants and the National Association of Black Accountants are being supported by major accounting firms to assist in achieving the bigger tasks of recruiting, retaining and motivating women of color however at departmental and clientele levels there still persists some form of discrimination hindering the progress of these professionals.


Accountancy. (2005, June). ACCA faces racial discrimination allegation. Accountancy Magazine , 135, p. 8.

This news was published in Accountancy Magazine which reported case of racial discrimination filed by an employee who was US citizen and working for ACCA. ACCA then settled the matter out of court with the plaintiff.

Bagati, D. (2007). Retaining People of Color: What Accounting Firms Need to Know. New York: Catalyst.

The report published by Catalyst is the first in Women of Color in Professional Services Series. The report covered findings from a research conducted by Catalyst. This report highlights different factors pertaining to the corporate culture and work environment which play important role in the retention, development and advancement of women of color. Different aspects of their working in accounting firms were covered in this survey including career development, promoting communicational networks, increasing client opportunities and helping to create balance between work-life issues.

Catalyst. (2008). Despite Need for CPAs, Women of Color Struggle to Gain Experience, Support, and Exposure Essential to Succeed in Accounting Firms, According to Latest Catalyst Study . Web.

This is subsequent to the research published by Catalyst which pointed out the experiences of women of color in the accounting industry. It suggested that the demand for professionals in the accounting profession is increasing significantly and it is crucial for those associated with recruiting these individuals to ensure that career opportunities are offered to all on equal basis which at present are not incurring and causing problems on the whole for companies and in particular women of color in the industry.

Catalyst. (2009). Women of Color in Professional Services . Web.

This article reflects upon the findings made by Catalyst in its research. It pointed out the differences between experiences of black women and white women working in the same organization. Furthermore, the inherent incline towards racial biasness amongst the top management led to additional barriers for women of color and they felt that they are set back and their rights are neglected in every respect of job.

Estes, R. W. (1973). The Accountant’s Social Responsibility. In R. W. Estes, Accounting and society (pp. 65-72). New York: John WIley & Sons, Inc.

This section is part of the book which deals with the social responsibility of the accounting profession and professional who are working in the accounting profession. This section presents that the accountants need to move forward from just the traditional view of the civil responsibilities and take on issues which are deeply rooted in our societies. Accountants need to get more involved and the regulatory bodies must assure that accounting firms take initiatives which help accountants to become more socially responsible. Furthermore, this section deals with the idea of tolerance that needs to be promoted within the society and organizations.

Giscombe, K. (2008). Women of Color in Accounting. New York: Catalyst.

The report published by Catalyst is second in Women of Color in Professional Services Series by Catalyst. The report highlights major trends in the accounting profession and demand for professionals by accounting firms. This report deals with the experiences of women of color in organizations and provides a comparison between them and others working in the same environment. The report discusses issues faced by women in male dominated accounting industry and further goes on examining and establishing a better understanding of “intersectionality” experienced by women of color. Different factors affecting their engagement including attributes, characteristics, experiences and expectations are presented along with the survey conducted by the company.

IMDiversity. (2007). Report: Accounting Firms Face Significant Risk of Turnover by Women and Men of Color. Web.

This article was published by Catalyst however taken from the provided website. The article deals with a major issue with accounting firms have been facing lately. According to a survey conducted by Catalyst suggests that more than 50% of women and men of color are findings themselves less committed to their accounting jobs. This is the reason that the industry is experiencing high turnover by women and men of color. This survey report suggested corrective measures for senior management and human resource managers to understand the perspective of these individuals and try to understand their experiences within the organizations. There are factors identified as “push” and “pull” which belong to both internal and external environments affecting individuals of color. Overall creation of diversity and tolerance for each other was considered as a must which companies need to ensure in their organizational setups.

SmartPros. (2008). Women of Color Face Barriers in Accounting: Report. Web.

Wescott, S. H., & Seiler, R. E. (1986). Women in the Accounting Profession. New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, Inc.

This book is available online and is an excellent narration of the history of women in the accounting profession. It deals with the earlier days of women seeking responsible positions in the accounting profession and how their duties and responsibilities shaped up as they progress and managed to break barriers hindering their accessibility and sustainability in the accounting departments or companies. The development of the legislative and administrative framework allowed women to raise their concerns from a unified platform and currently large number of women is working alongside with men in the challenging environment of accounting industry.

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