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Where Is Your Firm on the Journey Toward Greater Diversity and Inclusion?

MLKOn the third Monday in January each year, AICPA and Americans across the country recognize the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Between 1955 and 1968, his strong leadership helped transform race relations in America, and his powerful voice gave the nation courage to continue working toward racial equality. He led millions in this movement, which resulted in historic reforms that benefit all of us—and he continues to inspire the ongoing work of diversity and inclusion happening today.

The accounting profession has been developing effective diversity and inclusion approaches for many years; early on these efforts focused mostly on gender diversity. Today’s initiatives comprise a much wider range of differences and similarities—not only in gender, but in ethnicity, age, generation, religion and sexual orientation.  

Making strong efforts to be more inclusive in the accounting profession is critical, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because trends show that the increased demand for CPAs and accounting professionals will eventually outpace the supply. Some of reasons for this trend are:

  • An unprecedented number of CPAs are retiring. Approximately half of all U.S. CPA firms are expected to lose at least one partner or principal to retirement in the next five years, according to a May 2014 survey by the Global Accounting Alliance, which includes AICPA.
  • We’re seeing changes in demographics. For example, minority and women-owned businesses are growing in numbers and need accounting professionals that are aware of and understand their unique needs.
  • Younger individuals and those entering the profession tend to be less interested in traditional, long-term career paths.

The good news is, when firms recognize these challenges they can take steps to prepare for the future. Just as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership recognized and pushed beyond challenges, leaders within firms have the opportunity to achieve success by garnering buy-in and supporting important initiatives.

Here are some ways leaders can support their organizations’ diversity and inclusion efforts:

  • Be informed on the topic. At the least, leaders should know the definitions of “diversity” and “inclusion,” be clear on the business case for their specific organization and know personally where they stand on the topic.
  • Be realistic. The diversity and inclusion efforts of an organization take time and should be treated no differently than any other major culture shift or advancement it is trying to achieve.
  • Communicate your commitment. Talk up your organization’s commitment to diversity initiatives—not just behind closed doors, but in internal and external forums.
  • Be accountable. Leaders should see themselves not just as speaking on behalf of others who have been given the responsibility for diversity and inclusion initiatives, but as owners of those initiatives.
  • Be engaged. Leaders should be intimately involved with the development of the rationale as well as the practical mechanics of their organizations’ diversity and inclusion initiatives and keep regular track of the progress being made.

A common pitfall for firms desiring greater diversity and inclusion is implementing strategies too soon—especially before evaluating where they stand as an organization.

Avoid this pitfall by taking AICPA’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model. This assessment tool is designed to help you evaluate your current diversity and inclusion efforts. After completing the assessment, you can access a summary of results indicating your firm’s diversity maturity and use them to help determine your next steps. 

You can also learn more about AICPA’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.

Kim Drumgo, MBA, PMP, Director, Diversity & Inclusion, American Institute of CPAs

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial image via Shutterstock

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