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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

Moving the Needle in Diversifying Accountants

Q&A: NABA Chapter President Brooks Shares Insights

SAN DIEGO – The accounting field is one of the least diverse careers in America.
According to a 2019 report by the Association of International Certified Public Accountants just 2% of certified public accountants identify as Black, while 84% of CPAs identify as white.
Additionally, according to the 2021 AICPA Trends report, professional accounting staff at United States firms are 62% white, 24% Asian or Pacific Islander, 7% Hispanic/Latino and 5% Black, compared to the general population of 75% white, 18% Hispanic/Latino, 13.6% Black, 6.4% Asian/Pacific Islander and 18 percent Hispanic/Latino.
An AICPA report from 2023 noted a trend in new accounting degree completions by race from 2013-22 dropped in the Black population from 8.07% in 2012-12 to 7.1% in 2021-22.
Marcus Brooks is assistant professor of accounting in the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University. Brooks is looking to move the needle and get more Black students interested in the world of accounting.

Marcus Brooks
Assistant Professor
Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy
Fowler College of Business
San Diego State University

Brooks serves as the faculty advisor to the Black Business Society (BBS) at SDSU and is the founder and President of the San Diego Chapter of National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA).
Originally from Texas, Brooks was a member of the accounting club Beta Alpha Psi and in 2006 helped found the NABA student chapter while at Texas State University, from where he graduated with honors with a BBA, and also earned a Masters of Accountancy. Brooks became a CPA licensed to practice Texas, then worked at Deloitte as an auditor and at Direct Energy as a gas accounting analyst from 2008 to 2010. He earned a Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Brooks was also an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Nevada-Reno from 2015-20.
The San Diego Business Journal recently talked with Brooks about the state of diversity accounting, academia and more. Some responses have been edited for brevity.
What was the impetus for your interest in a career in accounting?
Because of my socio-economic background, I was always interested in finances, accounting and issues related to personal and organizational wealth management. I was never the strongest mathematics student, but accounting always made sense to me because we are dealing with numbers that actually represent something and are not abstract. Plus, we only deal with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I can do those! Unlike many of the sciences and math courses with abstract ideas and theories, accounting makes perfect sense to me as the language of business. Once I was able to focus on solely accounting in college, I really began to blossom as a student. Now that I have experience and knowledge, I am able to see, share and hopefully teach how accounting is prevalent in literally every single facet of our personal daily lives and organizational operations.

What have been your greatest challenges in the accounting field?

Reshaping the perception of what it means to be an accountant. I am not a tax accountant and accountants do much more than taxes, so educating the masses on that has been a substantial challenge. In addition, as a Black American with a CPA and a Ph.D., there are very of us in existence. Sharing my insights and experience has been a challenge because far too often I am the only one in the room, so my words typically represent more than just myself, which means I have to be very careful in how I communicate and image I project. Trying to educate, advertise and convince underrepresented groups that accounting is a viable and lucrative career choice is very challenging given that these groups have been historically disenfranchised and typically view accounting through a stereotypical lens.

Why is accounting an important part of the business world?

Quite simply, accounting is the language of business. Every business, organization or individual in existence uses some form of accounting. It is an absolutely critical and crucial component in the business word as it is the mechanism that is used to communicate operational success of shortcomings. All businesses have the goal of turning a profit (even non-profit business), so understanding accounting and how to appropriately report operations in a financial context is of paramount importance to the ability of a company to continue and sustained operations.

How, when and why did you decide to start the professional NABA chapter in San Diego?

A professional chapter of NABA was created in San Diego because I was unable to meet the requisite number of students to start a student chapter at SDSU due to the low enrollment of Black students majoring in accounting at SDSU. Extending the chapter to professionals allowed me to create a chapter that can service both professionals and those students in the area interested in being a part of the chapter. Due to this, we have been able to extend and grow our membership to approximately 30 people, comprised of 20 professionals and 10 students (from SDSU, University of California San Diego, University of San Diego and Cal State San Marcos). Like creating the chapter at Texas State, I saw a void in the area for Black accountants and accounting students. I decided to create the professional chapter to address that void and provide connections and networking opportunities to those of us in the San Diego area.

What are your hopes for the professional chapter of NABA in San Diego?

My hope is to grow the professional chapter of NABA in San Diego to a level where we are able to interface, connect and be seen as a valuable addition to the San Digo business community. I would like for our chapter to establish partnerships with local area business, organizations and schools to provide opportunities to our members and inform the public, especially marginalized communities, of what it means to be an accountant and pursue a career in accounting. In addition, professional chapters are the sponsors of student chapters, so my ultimate dream is to grow the chapter enough to spur the creation of student chapters at each of the major universities and community colleges in the San Diego area.

Who has partnered with you for your work locally with NABA?

Our chapter would not be in existence if it were not for Deloitte professionals Jane Chau and Aiesha Ebraham both SDSU alumni, and James “Jim” Deiotte, who is the Executive Director of the MPA program at UCSD. Together, these people have used their influence and connections to help me get the organization started, a platform to hold meetings and the financial support to fund chapter operations. Without these three, I would not have been able to get this off of the ground. I am so grateful for their time, effort and assistance, and they each mean more to me than they will know because they helped me turn a worthy idea into a full-fledged organization. Each of them holds an officer position within the organization and are vital components to the success of our chapter. Since our creation the Lamden School of Accountancy at SDSU, the Deloitte Foundation and the San Diego Offices of Deloitte along with Sempra/San Diego Gas & Electric have all made valuable contributions to the chapter.

What is the state of Black students getting into the accounting field?

Currently, enrollment in accounting as a major has been declining across the board at all universities. Due to the already low number of Black students in accounting, these numbers have significantly declined as well. Only about 2% of all CPAs in the U.S. are Black and unfortunately this is typically about the number of Black students you see enrolled as accounting majors across the country. It is our job as accountants and educators to expand our reach and inform students of color about what it means to be an accountant to increase exposure to the profession and possible career paths.
What do people need to know about the field of accounting?
It is more than just doing taxes. Accountants are a vital part of any organization and/or business undertaking. We are well versed in financial matters and can translate and communicate historical operations, projects, forecasts and outlooks in a manner that is understood by those with limited knowledge of accounting and finance.

What qualities make a good accountant?

The qualities that make a good accountant are strong communication skills — being able to listen carefully and discuss the results of your work, analytical skills — being able to identify problems/issues and suggest solutions, organizational skills — needed to work with a wide range of financial documents for a variety of clients, be detailed oriented — being able to pay close attention when examining and compiling documentation and having strong foundational math skills — being able to analyze, compare and interpret facts and figures.
What are the most in-demand jobs in accounting?
Due to the nature of the public accounting industry certified public accountants (i.e., CPAs) are always in demand. Accounting firms typically are comprised of functions dedicated to Assurance Services (i.e., auditors), Tax Services (i.e., tax accountants) and Consulting Services. Accountants, especially CPAs, are always in demand because the services we provide through these functions help to ensure the reliability of financial information and to maintain the public trust in financial markets and institutions. With the growing presence of artificial intelligence, accountants having a background in computer science and information systems is also a large growth area. Having the ability to understand accounting processes and being able to code and/or create systems is very important in the current landscape and a definite growth area for the profession.

What is the state of the Black population in the field of accounting?

Although many strides have been made and the numbers of Blacks in accounting has certainly increased, largely due to organizations such as NABA, Inc., Black CPAs still only account for 2% of all CPAs in the U.S. While the percentage of Blacks in accounting is higher than 2%, it is not much higher. It is my charge and the charge of others in accounting to bring more underrepresented individuals into accounting or at least increase their exposure to accounting as a viable career choice. This is why creating local professional and student chapters of NABA is so important. Also, we must develop advertising that gets to students at an earlier age so they are aware of what it is accountants do and the career opportunities that are available through accounting.

What are your thoughts on DEI in the accounting field?

For those that value and appreciate different perspectives, DEI in accounting has certainly grown and been a topic of importance for a lot of public accounting firms, with Deloitte leading the charge. Because marginalized groups have historically been excluded from professions such as accounting, there has not been broad acceptance of the need for DEI in accounting. However, once accountants are able to see the numbers and value associated with increasing DEI in accounting, I am hopeful that there will be a wholesale commitment to increasing DEI in the accounting profession.

Starting with your work at UNR to today at SDSU, what was the transition from accounting into the world of academia like for you?

The transition to academia has been eye-opening, challenging but also rewarding. Given my limited time in public accounting and industry, I was able to see that from a corporate perspective, there is much more importance placed on the value that an individual brings to the table in helping reach company objectives.
Once I transitioned into academia, where I believed the same would be true, I began to understand institutionalization more comprehensively and how it can directly affect and influence marginalized communities.
I have witnessed the difference between what people believe occurs in academia from an idealistic theoretical viewpoint versus what actually occurs in practice. Luckily, from an accounting standpoint, we are a technical profession, so we are able to focus on accounting and how to hone our craft through a technical/empirical lens.
When it comes to qualitative issues related to inclusiveness and/or diversity, we still have a lot of work to do. This has been the primary reason I have chosen to provide service to these traditionally underserved areas of the profession.

What does the future of accounting look like?

Currently there is an absolute shift in accounting. Many of the senior accountants and partners in traditional leadership roles are retiring, so there is a wonderful opportunity for the next generation of accountants to make their marks.
While enrollments are down across the board in accounting programs, it creates a great opportunity for current accountants, and those considering entering the profession, to not only be successful but also be influential in the future of the profession.
I am very hopeful that we will figure out a way to grow the reach of accounting and be more inclusive for the future survival of our profession.

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