Race, equality, and accounting

This post is inspired by the events taking place across the nation related to race.  Our mission is to inspire, empower, and impact our members to achieve professional excellence.  With that as our mission, I want to share these thoughts on how we can respond, grow, and get better.

The MSCPA Board will discuss this issue at our next meeting.  Over the past few days they helped me craft this message, to be clear these are my words not theirs.  I encourage you to share your reactions, this is your Society and we all want to know what you think and feel on this issue.  We see this as the beginning of a conversation, we are not here to judge but to learn from one another.

Ethics play a critical role in accounting; you are required to take a class before becoming a CPA and then you must take ethics CPE throughout your career.  Practicing ethics involves both identifying and reporting unethical behavior.  If you are aware of fraud and choose not to say something you can find yourself in serious trouble.  This is not easy, but it is a critical part of being a CPA.  Confronting racism and social injustice is similarly difficult and important.

Another core of accounting is objectivity; you make sure financial information is not influenced by opinion or biases.  You also practice professional skepticism; you have a questioning mind and are alert to conditions that may indicate misstatement.  These skills are critical to performing as a CPA, and I would argue these same skills are incredibly powerful right now.  Regardless of where you stand, take a moment right now to think objectively and skeptically about the racism and social injustice issues that our Country is currently experiencing.

I hope this simple exercise opened your mind a bit to seeing that this is a complex issue that will never be solved with a quick fix.  Whenever we try to solve a complex issue there is huge benefit to balancing different thoughts on the issue.  Applying the same thinking to issues and problems results in the same results repeating themselves.  If we want to solve lingering problems and be ready to address issues in the future, we need to be open to different ways of looking at the issues.

As a profession the best thing we can do to both address the issue of race and prepare ourselves for the future is to fully embrace not only diversity, but also inclusion.  Comparing these two, diversity is simple, to create a diverse workforce you simply need to hire people different from the people you hired in the past.  This can be based on the color of their skin or their life experiences or any number of other things.  It is a simple process, not necessarily an easy one.

Inclusion is far more complicated and difficult.  If you hire different people then ask them to act like everybody else you have built a diverse, but not inclusive team.  Inclusion requires you to adapt your organization to these new people.  You need to be objective and equally value and research ideas that come from people with a different perspective.  It does not mean you are not skeptical, but it means that you apply the same skepticism to all ideas.

I don’t expect this post to solve the issue of racism and social injustice  in America.  But I feel that what is most needed right now are the skills CPAs bring to the table.  People need to be more objective in how they look at the issue and we need to be skeptical of all the different solutions being brought forward.

MSCPA’s Mission is to inspire, empower, and impact our members to achieve professional excellence.  I hope this message has inspired you to empower those around you to make an impact.

I would also like to share a personal story about race.  I grew up in a small town where everyone was the same color.  My parents sent me to a private school in the sixth grade.  Every morning my parents would drop me off hours before school started so they could drive back to their work.  One morning I sat in the hallway working on my homework but was having trouble with something.  A group of older students walked by and a very tall black student stopped and sat down next to me.  He took the time to explain how to do whatever it was that I couldn’t figure out myself.  This was the first conversation I ever had with a person of another color.  Before that morning I always assumed different colored people were different.  What I learned was I was right we are all different and sometimes different is exactly what we need.  Whatever I wasn’t doing right had been explained by a white teacher and my white parents and nothing they said helped me figure it out.  That different person explained things differently and it helped me learn.

If I told you I never had a racist thought for the rest of my life after this experience it would be a lie.  When I first saw the video of George Floyd, I wondered what crime he committed to deserve that treatment.  In hindsight, no crime deserves a police officer kneeling on top of a person who is in handcuffs.  It is highly unlikely that any of us will ever be in either role of this situation, but that does not mean we cannot make a difference in this issue.  We can all work to learn from the differences between us and speak up when we see something that isn’t right.

As always, we welcome your thoughts on this and any other issue.

Allen Lloyd can be reached at allen@mscpa.org

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