Editor's Note: The Public Interest Section of the American Accounting Association is pleased to publish the following blog post by Steve Mintz, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or suggestions about our blog, or to express interest in our organization. Disclaimer: When you read the comments of our columnists, please keep in mind that they only speak for themselves. They are not expressing the positions of the AAA or of any other party.
EDI Courses and Accounting Ethics Education
Recently it was announced that Boise State University was suspending a course following allegations that the in-class instruction had humiliated and degraded some students over their beliefs and values. The suspension affected roughly 1,300 students in 52 sections of UF 200: Foundations of Ethics and Diversity, according to the University, a required course in the program. After a brief review of the facts, the University decided to restore the course but only with online instruction. The problem is the solution fails to address the underlying concerns about teaching classes that are consistent with equity, diversity, and inclusion policies.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (EDI)
It is important to have a classroom environment that is welcoming to all students regardless of their race, religion, nationality, and sexual preference. After all, one job of a university is to prepare students for the challenges that face them in a diverse workplace. Moreover, accounting students should be sensitized to gender diversity and inclusion because it affects the culture of an organization and is the foundation of fairness in decision making.
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and to celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality.
Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.
People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. But when we place it next to equity, that is when the lines get blurred.
Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fit a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures in the classroom. In the workplace, it means to provide accommodations as needed.
A good analogy is to think of runners sprinting around an oval track during a competition. The concept of equality would mean treating runners the same way; having them start at the same place on the track. While this may seem fair at first, we quickly realize that those starting from an inside position have an advantage over runners in the outside lanes because the distance they must travel is shorter. As a result, equality – starting at the same place – does not result in fairness. The concept of equity would mean the starting positions should be staggered so runners in the outer lanes have an equal chance to win the competition. In this case, different or tailored treatment leads to fairness and justice, not the same treatment.
What is the Best Way to Teach About EDI?
Universities tend to treat specialized subject matter by developing new courses. A better solution is to incorporate issues related to gender issues and EDI in as many courses as possible. This sends a signal that EDI permeates society and are important to a well-balanced education including in areas such as Literature, Sociology, Psychology, and other courses in the humanities.
Integration throughout should be matched by a having a separate, required course in the curriculum specific to a students’ major field of study. For example, a Business Ethics course should address EDI issues in the workplace.
The integration of EDI into the curriculum whenever possible, and a separate dedicated course in one’s field of study, together sends a strong message that everything students do should incorporate a sensitivity to gender and EDI issues to prepare them to be contributing members of society.
Public Interest, Gender, and Diversity Sections of the American Accounting Association
One of the objectives of the Public Interest Section of the AAA is to promote interaction among members of the academic and professional communities interested in the interface of accounting with social, economic, ethical, and political consequences of corporate activity, and in exploring the social and ethical roles and responsibilities of the accounting profession. A significant interaction is in the social arena is on gender issues and on diversity issues because they influence socialization in the accounting profession.
The objective of the Diversity Section of the AAA is to encourage and support research that will create awareness of diversity issues in accounting education and practice. These issues have major implications for teaching about rights, justice, and fairness, three philosophical concepts that tend to be the foundation of accounting ethics courses.
The overall objective of the Gender Issues & Worklife Balance Section is to facilitate interaction among AAA members regarding gender issues and worklife balance as they relate to accounting practice, research, and education.
All members of the AAA should become aware of the workplace issues surrounding gender issues and equity and diversity since accounting students will become part of the organization and should adhere to organizational values, which includes to promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. These topics should be incorporated into the accounting curriculum, especially a separate course on accounting ethics in the accounting curriculum.