IPA 100 Leader: Despite What Most MPs Believe, Diversity Won’t ‘Take Care Of Itself’

DiversityFirm leaders say they’re interested in promoting talented professionals, applying more brainpower to difficult problems and coming up with innovative solutions for clients.

A more diverse workplace can provide these benefits and more, says Richard Caturano, a leader at Chicago-based McGladrey (FY14 net revenue of $1.5 billion). Most male firm leaders, he believes, have a poor understanding of the connection between a diverse workplace and firm success and growth. “The business case for diversity and inclusion is often misunderstood,” he says.

Caturano, a speaker at the AICPA Women’s Global Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., Oct. 23 and 24, has been on what he calls a “diversity and inclusion journey.” Caturano’s Boston-based firm, Vitale, Caturano & Co., merged in 2010 with McGladrey, the biggest national firm after the Big 4. He now serves as its national leader of culture, diversity and inclusion. He took a break from the conference to speak with IPA.

Richard Caturano

Richard Caturano

Over the last three years, Caturano has immersed himself in research on attracting, retaining and promoting women and minorities to leadership positions within the profession. “I will say that I think the attitude of most of the male leaders who I know and speak to is that diversity is something that will take care of itself given enough time.”

He says MPs look around and see a lot of women being hired into the profession. They also see a generation of young people who are completely comfortable working in a diverse environment, so they think the scarcity of women and minority leaders will fix itself.

In fact, according to the 2014 IPA Human Resources Survey, four out of five firms have not adopted any kind of diversity recruitment program.

“One of the key things I’ve learned is it won’t take care of itself,” Caturano says. While about half of graduate recruits are women, according to the 2014 IPA National Benchmarking Report, only 15.6% of all CPA firm equity partners are women. That means that women are leaving the profession and are not being promoted into leadership roles.

Many leaders believe equal treatment of all equals fairness, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth, Caturano says. Treating everyone the same does NOT result in equality. “Most male leaders wouldn’t even see that.” Firms would be better off economically if they allowed everyone to enjoy professional involvement in their organizations in a way that fits their life, he says.

Caturano contends that the business model of accounting is outmoded. “Accounting firms were built by straight white men for straight white men,” he says. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the leadership ranks of accounting firms look homogenous, but the challenge of reshaping practices that have been in place for 50 years is a daunting one, Caturano says. Accounting firms have experienced years of sustained growth, so changing the fundamentals is like telling leaders to fix something that doesn’t appear to be broken.

In fact, Caturano says, the profession is on a collision course and the stakes of doing nothing are high. “Five years from now the cost will be we are not a profession that has the best and brightest anymore, we’re no longer innovative, we’re no longer representing America and we’re no longer a profession people want to do business with.”

Caturano lays down the challenge to his peers in the profession: “You’ve got to decide as a business how important it is to have diversity.”

According to Tru Access, diversity and inclusion matters to Millennials and it should matter to you too. If doing the right thing isn’t enough, here are a few other benefits of diversity and inclusion: increases innovation; improves profitability; strengthens marketplace relevance; attracts and retains top talent and enhances brand image and reputation.