The demands of today’s accounting and finance workforce have changed, and they include being part of a more diverse and inclusive profession. As a reflection, entry-level gender diversity within the profession is shifting ― 51% of bachelor and master degrees in accounting are awarded to women, according to the 2021 AICPA Trends Report.
However, when scrutinizing the higher levels of leadership, some experts within the accounting specialization of forensics and business valuation see slower progress.
“If you go to a [forensics and valuation] conference, and you walk around the room, it’s still predominantly men. In particular, it’s a lot of older professionals,” said Kirstine Connors Fors, CPA/ABV, CVA, a principal with accounting firm YHB in Falls Church, Virginia. “We want the people [who practice] valuation and forensics to look like our workplaces and communities.”
One key to improving inclusivity and diversity in the forensic and valuation services (FVS) specialization is to help raise awareness among professionals, of all backgrounds, who might not otherwise see a career in FVS as an option.
A dynamic career in FVS
The career trajectory of an accountant is broad ― going far beyond preparing taxes or performing audits. FVS is a niche field that blends an accountant’s proficiencies in data and critical thinking.
Forensic accountants delve deep into questionable financial data to detect fraud ― aiding in criminal and civil investigations. They’re financial detectives who often testify in courtrooms as expert witnesses.
Valuation specialists understand the intricacies, complexities and nuances of a business and can determine its economic value. They generate detailed reports that are used in, among other things, business acquisitions, litigation and divorce proceedings.
Professionals interested in FVS opportunities can elevate their careers and demonstrate their expertise by obtaining the AICPA® Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV®) credential. ABV® professionals are well positioned to evaluate businesses, identify fraud and provide litigation support.
“There is a great diversity of people who could become great CPAs because of their various talents,” said Rumbi Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, CPA, CFF, CFE, and senior director of consulting at Seramount in New York; she cited technology proficiency and interpersonal communication skills as two such talents.
But the backbone of good interpersonal communication is diverse backgrounds and experiences. “I think that’s what makes us better CPAs,” she added. Bwerinofa-Petrozzello is also the first woman of color elected president of the New York State Society of CPAs.
Awareness and education at the forefront of change
To foster diversity within specializations like FVS, education and outreach efforts need to communicate the expectations of a job in forensics and valuation to different candidate groups ― from high school seniors to experienced accountants looking for a career change.
Bwerinofa-Petrozzello notes a lack of understanding within the public ― and the CPA profession as a whole ― of what FVS encompasses. “Everyone still thinks I do taxes,” confessed Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, with a laugh. “I have never been a tax person, but they hear CPA and that is their assumption.”
Too often, awareness of the career opportunities as an FVS specialist come too far along one’s career path.
“One of the problems we have with this type of work is that some of the best practitioners have experience doing something else before they specialize,” explained Connors Fors. “I started out in audit … and [valuation] is not something that most people just walk in at the ground level and do.”
“People who enter the forensics and valuation field fall in two camps,” explained Portland, Oregon-based Charles Wilhoite, CPA, ABV, CGMA (along with seven other credentials) and managing director at Willamette Management Associates. “There’s one camp where people are aware of it when they’re leaving their educational training. Or two, they’ve gone into the workforce, and it becomes a viable path. And the only way you succeed [is to recruit from] those two groups. People have to be aware of the opportunities out there.”
Improve education around FVS
Ignoring diversity and failing to strengthen outreach efforts could prove detrimental to FVS, said Wilhoite.
“Any industry sector, including the forensic and valuation services sector, that does not pursue a strategy of diversity and inclusion is limiting both the effectiveness of the sector and the growth of the sector,” Wilhoite explained. “The client base of the FVS sector is diverse in both clients served and their underlying constituents.”
FVS professionals work with a range of parties within the public and private sectors, and these sectors are diverse. “Because the client base is diverse, the perspectives required to serve them well need to be diverse,” Wilhoite said. One step to take toward building a more diverse and inclusive workforce is education. Understanding the current state of FVS as well as what needs to be done to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is essential.
“It’s a stereotype that accountants are resistant to change,” Bwerinofa-Petrozzello explained. “But the world is changing. If we keep doing things the old way and if we’re married to our older standards, we’re going to be left behind. We’re going to lose relevancy, and we’re going to miss a lot.”
Build the workforce of tomorrow
Connors Fors, Bwerinofa-Petrozzello and Wilhoite acknowledge that, although hard work has been done to increase awareness and diversify the pool of candidates, more can be done ― in forensics and valuation and in the public accounting profession as a whole.
The lack of diversity within FVS limits the specialization’s effectiveness, erodes public trust, and inhibits employee-retention efforts.
“Studies show that companies that are more diverse are more successful,” added Connors Fors. “They evolve better, are more innovative and have improved efficiencies. Because we have a lack of diversity in FVS, we are holding ourselves back from being able to realize these same benefits.”
To hear what more can be done to increase awareness and increase the diverse pool of candidates in FVS, check out the AICPA® & CIMA® Diversity, Equity & Inclusion page and start making the business case for Diversity & Inclusion in your organization today.