Yang Hu, senior in accounting, came to the U.S. in 2009 from China to pursue an undergraduate degree in the “land of opportunity.” Studying in America, she said, presented numerous opportunities and opened doors for her to eventually secure a well-paying job as an accountant.
“I came here to do my undergraduate degree; I had the choice to either do it here or in China,” Hu said. “I can be more independent here than in China and I think that will be better for my career.”
Her numerous career plans include getting a graduate degree and possibly one day starting a firm of her own.
Unfortunately for international students like Hu, as well as other minorities, opportunities in the business world remain difficult to come by. According to the latest U.S. Census, of the 27.1 million total employer firms, 5.8 million, or roughly 21 percent, are owned by minorities.
Theresa Hammond, professor of accounting at San Francisco State University and author of “A White-Collar Profession,” gave a presentation about her book and spoke on the history of racial oppression in business and accounting industries in the Little Theatre on Tuesday.
“I realized that there were very few non-whites in the profession,” Hammond said. “It was the most homogenous environment I have ever been in.”
Hammond said that during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, only one in 1,000 Certified Public Accountants was black. Though that number today has increased tenfold to one in 100, Hammond said that there is much room for growth.
The discrepancy in the number of minorities in the business world does not come from lack of ability to receive an education or securing professional certification, she said, but was rather a systemic problem.
“The demographic of poorer people are disproportionately minorities,” Hammond said. “More often than not, these people are not offered the same opportunities; when you’re often set up to fail, it’s hard to keep going.”
Yasche Glass, tax professional at the H&R; Block off of Tuttle Creek Boulevard and Fourth Street, said that considering professional jobs in areas of business can be intimidating to many minorities who often do not grow up around the white collar environment.
She also said that a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to enter those fields is a catalyst for fear of white collar professions.
“At times, [minorities] are scared because they may feel they are inadequate,” Glass said. “They may feel like they wouldn’t be able to cut it, that they wouldn’t be qualified. Personally, my mother wanted to be an accountant. I’ve never seen a person do such complex math in her head without a problem, but she had always been discouraged to go into that because she’d never seen an African-American doing it before.”
Alienation also became a familiar theme for Glass, who is currently the only minority working in her office.
“I did feel ‘that feeling’ this year, of being the only minority in the room,” Glass said. “I’m a higher-ranking tax preparer than some of the new people and I have more knowledge because I completed extra certifications, but I was not getting referred the complex taxes that the people under me were. I don’t want to assume it was because of race, of course, but it certainly can seem that way.”
The barriers to success are numerous for minorities, especially for those who are not accustomed to American culture or methods of communication.
“One of the biggest challenges is language,” Hu said. “Even if you know accounting or business, to be able to tell that to someone else? That’s a different story. It is a different challenge.”
Both Hu and Hammond said, however, that both K-State and the Manhattan community are much more welcoming than much of the rest of the country.
Even before many civil rights were enacted, Hammond said that K-State had, “more African-American graduates than almost any other white-majority university in the country.”
“I love being at K-State because people accept me and other internationals here for the most part,” Hu said. “I still need to work on my English, but besides a few people who do not know our customs, people are helpful and don’t treat us badly.”
Given the opportunity, Hu said that she would relish the opportunity to remain in the U.S. and pursue a career in business, saying that there, “is no place like the U.S. to be successful.”
“I would love to stay here and work if I get a job or a chance to start my own business,” she said. “If I don’t though, I will have to go back to China.”