Accounting for the Benefits of Diversity

REDMOND, Wash., June 10, 2008 – The United States workforce now has a greater number of African American professionals than ever before – a welcome fact for many companies that have been working toward achieving greater diversity in their employee base. Many barriers have been overcome as more and more minorities take on roles that once seemed out of reach.

However, even as the professional ranks of many fields have become much more ethnically diverse, the accounting and finance field has shown little change. Today, increasing the supply of qualified black practitioners is the challenge. In fact, only one percent of all certified public accountants (CPAs) are black, according to an American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) report published this year. The lack of African-American finance and accounting professionals can be particularly tough on companies that realize how much they can benefit from the variety of ideas and innovations that only come from a diverse workforce.

Since 1969, the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) has been working to help expand the number of African-American CPAs — from 136 when the organization was founded — to more than 200,000 people participating in the field of accounting today, of which 5,000 are CPAs.

Recognizing the importance of this work, this week Microsoft is making a US$1 million commitment to the NABA. Building on the systems and programs that have proven successful for the NABA, the donation will help encourage and enable more African Americans to pursue careers in the accounting and finance professions. Specifically, the funds and in-kind contributions will be used to sponsor a variety of scholarships and local chapters on the west coast, technical training on Microsoft Enterprise products, and software licenses for the use of Microsoft products by NABA members at no charge.

Seeing the Big Picture

Microsoft has been making strides to enhance diversity in every part of the company. With this new commitment to NABA, it is fostering diversity outside its walls, helping to cultivate new minds that may someday work for Microsoft.

According to Paul Horace, director of finance at Microsoft, diversity has more than just a social aspect; it is, he says, a cornerstone of good business. “We see a real value in diversity,” says Horace. “By having people with different ideas, different backgrounds, different points of view, we wind up with a better company that adds value internally and externally.”

In Seattle, Microsoft is sponsoring much of the scholarship and general fund for NABA’s local chapter, as well as its Accounting Career Awareness Program, or ACAP, which is designed to entice high school students to enter the accounting profession. Additionally, Microsoft is earmarking a large proportion of this funding for technology grants and training for practicing professionals.

Norm Smith, NABA Seattle Chapter President says, “This is an amazing commitment from Microsoft. We are overwhelmed with pride by this contribution. By providing this kind of support, they help us ensure that we will be able to continue to develop a great pipeline of talent.”

NABA’s Seattle membership has grown to 70 members over the last few years, which represents a jump of nearly 90 percent and, according to Smith, the scholarships and funding from Microsoft is essential to continuing this trend by allowing them to enhance the programs and services they offer.

Microsoft knows that its competitive edge is based on being able to attract the best and brightest from multiple disciplines, which includes finance and accounting.

“Unfortunately there aren’t enough African-Americans pursuing careers in accounting,” Horace says. “It’s disconcerting when you think about the lack of minorities being drawn into accounting and finance – and the talent we’re missing out on. That’s why the work that NABA is doing is so important. Just in our own organization we see the positive impact that having broad diversity can have; that’s why we understand, respect and encourage diversity.”

For its part, Microsoft has been working to improve diversity within the company for years. And with strong partnerships with organizations like NABA, Microsoft’s ability to foster, develop and attract new talent with fresh ideas will help to lead the company into the future.

NABA, Helping Professionals, Building Leaders

One of the key things that NABA does is builds leaders by helping students from high school on to learn about, train for and possibly enter financial services professions. Smith explains, “Our guiding principle is to help expand the influence of minority professionals in the fields of accounting and finance. The contributions of African Americans to the accounting profession are undeniable – so we do all we can to help grow the profession.”

The support NABA offers their members has had a positive impact on the number of young people entering the accounting profession. In fact, African-Americans now make up eight percent of all newly hired CPAs, according to the 2008 AICPA report.

Beyond the accounting focus, NABA is considered the principal financial services organization for African Americans. That considerable reputation and incredible commitment is one of the reasons Microsoft wants to help NABA attract and support their membership by funding scholarships to support future generations of technologically savvy, African-American accountants and finance professionals.

By working with NABA, Microsoft has an opportunity to help attract individuals who may have not have considered the company as a place to work.

Going Beyond Dollars and Cents

Microsoft and the NABA have a reciprocally beneficial relationship. The alliance provides Microsoft with the ability to draw upon the vast wealth of personal and professional skills of the organization’s members — helping the company continue to innovate and grow.

There are great things on the horizon for both organizations, kicking off with Microsoft’s sponsorship of the NABA National Convention taking place this week in Atlanta, Ga. At the conference, Microsoft will award four scholarships, and host a panel discussion and lunch with keynote speakers from Microsoft Finance.

“This kind of generosity from Microsoft speaks volumes about their commitment to diversity and to our organization as a whole,” Smith says.

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