It’s no secret. The accounting profession is in dire need of more ethnic diversity.
While numbers have increased over the last decade, only 15% of enrollees in accounting bachelor’s and master’s programs are Hispanic. Despite the knowledge that diversity within an organization breeds success, even fewer —10% — go on to get hired into accounting and finance roles in U.S. CPA firms.
Tony Torres, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 1961 and whose mother immigrated from Bolivia in 1963, is the Chief Inclusion Officer of Audit & Assurance at Deloitte & Touche, LLP and a member of the AICPA’s National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. I spoke to Torres to learn how he has successfully navigated the accounting ecosystem.
In what ways do you feel your heritage has contributed to your success as an individual and as a professional?
I think one of the most impactful things my Hispanic heritage has provided me is the ability to persevere and overcome challenges. When I look at the things my parents had to overcome as immigrants coming to the United States, especially the challenges they encountered to get their freedom, it instilled in me a competitive drive to face my personal challenges with a winning mentality. They’ve taught me how overcome obstacles and not to let anything get in my way when fighting for what I believe is right and important, which holds true for me personally and professionally.
Has mentorship been an important factor in terms of propelling your career?
I would never have achieved some of my goals without mentors — I had many mentors, from many different backgrounds.
Spending time with our people at Deloitte and mentoring professionals is one of the things I enjoy the most about my role. All professionals need mentoring, no matter your heritage or your background.
I recommend people find multiple mentors. One typically is not enough, so pick multiple mentors with enriching or unique qualities. I then encourage people to embody the quality and traits of their mentors with their own traits to create their unique leadership style.
Working in an organization where very few leaders look like you can be discouraging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for young Hispanic CPAs faced with this lack of representation in the profession?
My advice: Bring your authentic self to work each day. Don’t conceal who you are or put on a façade to make yourself more like the larger demographic.
There is value in being diverse and bringing different perspectives; you’ll perform at a higher level when you aren’t spending energy concealing your true self. And staying true to yourself and your heritage will make you happier on the inside.
What organizations that support Hispanic accountants and finance professionals do you recommend?
Get involved with the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) if you can. They have activities benefiting professionals and students who are interested in finance and accounting and offer opportunities to network — a very important aspect.
According to a recent study, Shining a Light on National Trends, the number of Latino business owners grew 34% over the past 10 years. Latino-owned businesses also contributed about $500 billion to the economy in annual sales.
How are you seeing firms respond to this growth of Latino entrepreneurs?
When businesses get more diverse — and demand more diversity from their vendors and service providers — it puts pressure on firms to respond.
When your customers expect to see diversity in leadership and teams, it adds to the responsibility of the firms to make diversity a priority.
To demonstrate that diversity and inclusion is a priority, firms need to focus on growing the number of minority professionals in their organization. A key to doing this is helping students understand there is an opportunity in accounting for them, and they can pursue that major in college.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a buzz term these days, and while some organizations are embracing the call to action, others still wrestle with successfully implementing programs that support diversity in the workplace.
What would you say a successful D&I effort looks like for finance and accounting firms? Which challenges should be approached first?
Successful D&I efforts start with the leaders of an organization providing employees an opportunity to share their current experiences and suggestions on how to foster a more inclusive and diverse work environment. Then, it takes partnership between the organization’s leadership and employees to generate strategies and create actionable steps to effect impactful change. Success of implementing D&I hinges on iteration until all parties agree that meaningful change has occurred.
To empower students of diverse backgrounds, The AIPCA has developed several pipeline and scholarship programs. If you would like to help ethnic minority students in their journey toward becoming a CPA, consider supporting the various AICPA pipeline efforts and/or donating to the AICPA Foundation that supports a number of ethnic minority scholarship and fellowship programs, as well as other Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.