Although a reasonable body of research exists with respect to women and some for African‐American accountants, no study has provided a comparison of both groups' experiences across similar periods. The purpose of this paper is to provide an historical overview and comparison of these two groups of accountants for the period 1960–1999 in an attempt to illuminate the reasons for their accomplishments and lack of accomplishments in the public accounting profession. A review of the 1960s indicates that although discrimination against women was evident, white females fared slightly better than African‐Americans, who were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. public accounting profession (Hammond 1997). During the 1970s both groups were excluded from any meaningful participation and were discriminated against when employed in public accounting. An explanation for this phenomenon was provided in 1976, as a result of the Metcalf hearings, when the Big 8 accounting firms admitted that they had not sought out women and African‐Americans in the past and indicated it would take time to train and develop these individuals to qualify for partnership levels (Wescott and Seiler 1986).
While the number of women in the profession had increased dramatically by the 1980s the Big 8 firms' records with respect to women partners were among the worst when compared to other professions (Maupin 1991). By 1989 only 4.1 percent of partners were women and Big 8 Accounting firms showed very little interest in recruiting African‐Americans, which led Mitchell and Flintall (1990, 59) to conclude that “although there are more black CPAs than in the past, proportionately blacks fare no better than they did in 1968.” During the 1990s the representation of African‐Americans and women in top‐level positions remained marginal since the ranks of partners, principals, directors, and senior managers continued to be filled primarily by white males (Kinard et al. 1998). Research with respect to both groups indicated that they thought their career advancement opportunities had been limited and by the end of 1999 women were still underrepresented in senior positions and African‐Americans were still underrepresented at all levels in the public accounting profession.