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Asian and Pacific Islanders Have a High Degree of Cultural Diversity but Need Greater Visibility

Darryl NittaMay is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a celebration established in 1992 to recognize the culture, traditions and history of Americans of Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry as well as their achievements and contributions.

Did you know?

  • The term “Asian Pacific Islands” includes more than 50 countries and ethnic groups
  • According to the U.S. Census, Asian and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing race in the nation
  • About 5.4 percent of the U.S. population is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent
  • As of 2007, there were 1.5 million Asian American-owned businesses in the United States—up 40 percent from 2002 (U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners – Asian-Owned Firms: 2007, released May 2011)

Creating Environments Where Asian and Pacific Islanders Can Thrive

Within the CPA profession, there are more Asian and Pacific Islanders represented than any other minority group, including Hispanics and African Americans. Also, the numbers overall are increasing. However, the increase is small, and more can to be done to recruit and retain Asian and Pacific Islanders as well as other minority groups. In our firms, we can help promote Asian and Pacific Islanders by:

  • Being aware of the great diversity that exists within this group
  • Acknowledging Asian and Pacific Islander employees, offering feedback, asking their opinions and encouraging them to speak up.
  • Presenting them with opportunities to develop leadership skills

Darryl Nitta is a CPA of Asian Pacific Islander descent working for Accuity LLP in Honolulu, Hawaii, as principal in charge of C&Y CPAs. Observing his father succeed as a CPA had a direct influence on his decision to go into accounting.

“My dad inspired me to become a CPA,” says Nitta. “He is a CPA and has been able to live very comfortably while supporting three children attending private school and college. He always had time to enjoy fishing, golfing, coaching baseball and spending quality time with our family. I think I subconsciously made the connection after college that his work-life balance happiness was attributable to his job as a CPA.”

Nitta says accounting has indeed turned out to be a great career—and in fact, the profession has opened many unexpected doors to him already.

“Being a CPA allows me to become involved with the CPA profession at both the state and national level—something I didn’t even consider when I first became a CPA,” he says.

So far, these leadership opportunities have included:                               

  • Participating in the 2010 AICPA Leadership Academy in North Carolina   
  • Serving as a board member and officer of the Hawaii Society of Certified Public Accountants (2011–present) 
  • Serving as a member of the Hawaii Tax Review Commission, appointed by the governor (2012–2014) 
  • Serving as an AICPA Council member (2013–2015)

Regarding his involvement in Council, he says, “I truly enjoyed being a part of a team that is helping to shape the future of our CPA profession.”   

Asian and Pacific Islanders Have Leadership Potential, but Need Support

For other Asian and Pacific Islanders, though, finding leadership opportunities has proven challenging. Ascend recently found in a study that among five of the largest tech companies, Asian and Asian Americans represent 27 percent of professionals, but only half that among executives. This disparity could be a result of a growing concept referred to as the bamboo ceiling, which is a combination of individual, cultural, and organizational factors that impede the career progress of Asians or Asian Americans.

It isn’t because employers  perceive Asians or Asian Americans as lacking—in fact, it is because Asian and Pacific Islanders are often stereotyped as high achievers, so others assume they are doing well and don’t need mentoring or help. It’s true that many in this group are high academic achievers. For example, 21 percent of Asians in the United States, age 25 and older, have an advanced degree (e.g., Master's, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.). In comparison, just 10 percent of all Americans in that age group have an advanced degree.

However, individual statistics often don’t tell the whole story. For instance, people from certain Southeast Asian nations have dealt with recent historical or political challenges and are struggling. Consider the fact that 40 percent of Hmong, 38 percent of Laotian and 35 percent of Cambodian students do not complete high school.

Once in the workplace, Asian and Pacific Islanders also report that they feel set apart. Thirty to 31 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders surveyed reported incidents of employment discrimination, the largest of any group, according to a Gallup poll.

They often don’t voice these complaints publicly. Asian and Pacific Islanders only filed about 2–3 percent of the total employment discrimination complaints received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against private employers.

Many Asian cultures are very respectful of leadership, this trait may influence individual decisions to publicly voice complaints about their employer. Gaining knowledge about various cultures and understanding culturally-based tendencies is critical to building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive workforce.

This is where the AICPA can help. With free and supportive resources including the AICPA Recruitment and Retention Toolkit used it in conjunction with AICPA Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model, organizations can use this model to assess where they are on their inclusion journey, evaluate their existing diversity and inclusion efforts and develop roadmaps to success.

Kimberly Drumgo, Director, Diversity & Inclusion, American Institute of CPAs.

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