Accounting and auditing has long had the reputation of being one of the U.S.' least diverse professions. Despite this widely held belief, however, few substantial improvements have been made. That could be because of this one glaring disconnect around perception: While nearly half of U.S. accounting professionals view the profession as equitable or inclusive, only one-third of respondents from underrepresented communities agree.

It's hard to remake perception when nearly half of those in a position to change it believe there is, in fact, no problem to solve. But now, as leaders stare down yet another year of talent shortage and a near record-high quits rate, finally tackling the issue of diversity could pay dividends in more ways than one. In order to find new talent and improve equality throughout accounting and auditing, these are the key demographic hurdles that will need to be overcome.

the workforce is aging

Despite millennials being the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, accounting remains a decidedly middle-aged profession. The average age of accountants in the U.S. is 43 —  and 60 percent of accountants are over the age of 40. A quick glimpse at the talent pipeline shows no signs of this trend slowing either. According to Burning Glass, 228,661 new accounting jobs were created during the previous year, yet fewer than 125,000 accounting degrees were awarded during that same time.

Clearly, that's not a sustainable trajectory for the profession to maintain. Employers will need to act fast to try and engage younger generations before it's too late.

For starters, employers should look to provide benefits that are tailored to younger workers. Flexible scheduling, either through full-time remote or hybrid work is now a must, but other incentives like student loan repayment and mental-health support can go a long way, too. Also, make sure you're searching for candidates on the channels they use most. Younger generations are searching for work online, so make sure your career resources page and job ads are engaging and that you're creating a strong presence on social media channels (yes, even TikTok).

43: the average age of accountants in the U.S.

the profession remains overwhelming white

Accounting and auditing leaders have shown signs they're ready to take diversity and inclusion seriously, but there's still a lot of ground to make up before full parity can be achieved. Today, 84 percent of accountants and 71.6 percent of auditors are white, with nonwhite workers making up just 14 percent of all CPAs.

Given these low numbers, it's no wonder the profession is plagued by an aging workforce. Younger generations, after all, are also more diverse: Gen Z for instance, is more racially and ethnically diverse than any other in history, with millennials not too far behind. That's a large portion of the current and future workforce not being addressed by accounting and auditing leaders.

Improving diversity can be tackled somewhat in tandem as employers look to hire younger workers, but additional conscious efforts must also be made to widen hiring to bring in more candidates from underrepresented groups. Employers can, for instance, sign on to the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge, which has over 94 signees in accounting and provides employers with actionable steps they can take to improve diversity. Partnership with other organizations, like the AICPA National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion can help bolster outreach and raise awareness and interest in accounting among members from underrepresented groups.

nonwhite workers make up just 14% of all CPAs.

the gender pay gap remains a problem

What is perhaps most surprising, however, is the current state of women in accounting and auditing. Despite making up a majority of all U.S. accountants, women remain underpaid compared to men and face more barriers to advancement.

Indeed, 57 percent of all U.S. accountants and 60.4 percent of auditors are women, yet they make just 95 percent of what their male counterparts do. They also comprise only 20 percent of partners in public accounting. The good news for employers is that the pay gap, while still pervasive, has seen some ground close over the years and is a relatively simple problem to solve. While attracting younger generations and diversifying the talent pool will require multi-year commitments, closing the pay gap remains firmly in employers control. With a majority of accountants  and auditors already being women, employers don't need to realign their employer branding or retool their hiring strategies: they simply need to pay women that are already in the workforce more and promote more of them to leadership positions to reestablish balance at the top.

despite making up 57% of the accounting workforce, women still earn 5% less than their male colleagues.

key takeaways

Today's talent shortage in accounting and auditing has put these key equity, diversity and inclusion issues under the microscope like never before. As accounting and auditing leaders struggle to find candidates, these glaring inequalities become impossible to ignore — and all the more pressing to address.

In order to find talent for the future and build a more equal and diverse workforce, accounting and auditing employers must focus on hiring younger workers, incorporating candidates from underrepresented groups and paying and promoting women equally in line with their male counterparts.

For more insights into sector-specific hiring and the current state of the profession, check out Randstad's 2022 Salary Guide today.