Identifying the pioneering Black professional accountants in Canada
The death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer in May 2020, was an event that sent shockwaves across the world. Law enforcement agencies came under increased scrutiny for their systemic racism. They weren’t alone. Organizations across industries and sectors were taken to task for their racist climates, including Canadian business schools.
Responding to calls to decolonize curriculum, Steve Salterio, a professor of accounting at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, thought a good activity for his auditing students during Black History Month would be to learn about Canada’s early Black professional accountants.
His extensive search revealed nothing. Undeterred, he sought the help of one of the leading Black accounting scholars, Marcia Annisette, a professor and then-associate dean academic at York University’s Schulich School of Business, who had published papers on chartered accountants who had immigrated to Canada. Salterio also connected with Tisha King, an assistant professor in the School of Accounting and Finance at the University of Waterloo. Both scholars were at a loss when it came to where one might find the histories of Canada’s earliest Black accountants.
Collectively, the trio decided to seek to identify these pioneering Black professional accountants and document their journeys in pursuing a career in accountancy. As the world becomes increasingly intolerant of exclusionary practices, they felt this research might prove helpful in cultivating an awareness within the profession of where we’ve been, and also help inform where the profession goes as we seek to pursue greater diversity within the accounting field.
The strategy was two-pronged. First, a genealogical approach via searching historical records from 1850 to 1950 carried out by a qualified contract researcher specializing in Black Canadian genealogical research (supported by funds from the Stephen J.R. Smith Chair in Accounting and Auditing at Smith School of Business). Second, work backwards from the present using contacts in the academic and professional accounting communities here and abroad.
After several months and more than 100 hours scouring historical sources, the genealogical part of the research had yielded 10 names, but no evidence that any of them had been a member of a professional accounting body. So, the trio put the word out to the accounting community, drawing on practising and retired senior leaders within the profession, and painstakingly reviewed the histories of the professional accounting bodies (CA, CGA, RIA/CMA).
It was the personal networks that paid big dividends. Annisette, a Trinidad and Tobago immigrant, was mentored by a Canadian Chartered Accountant, inspiring King to seek leads in her home country of Barbados, finding a Canadian Chartered Accountant who obtained his designation in the late 1960s. Meanwhile, Salterio found success in the Maritimes, connecting with Bermudians in an accounting program in the 1980s.
During the interviews with these leads, other Black professional accountants of their era were identified and, in some cases, interviewed. In total the trio identified more than 20 pioneers and have interviewed all who are still alive.
The research team says, “We’re far from being done with this project and invite readers to help us continue to grow this snowball as we seek to honour and catalogue Canada’s Black trailblazers in accounting.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF BLACK PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTANTS
Read more about five of the earliest Black professional accountants in Canada. And find out how to make Black History Month impactful in the workplace.
Photo caption: The death of George Floyd set off a movement throughout society, including in the accounting profession (Getty Images)