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D&I initiatives: A strategic imperative

GettyImages-669854210Ensuring diversity & inclusion remains high on an organization’s agenda is key to long-term success and growth. Because this topic is so important, I have made raising awareness of this initiative my personal goal, and I‘m having conversations like these with key players throughout the accounting and finance profession on tactics they’ve implemented.

Staff is the greatest investment in your firm, and often recruiting, growing and maintaining the best and the brightest talent are critical priorities for firms. It’s also exactly what Michele Meyer-Shipp finds so vital about her role as chief diversity officer at KPMG. No matter how much time and energy firms pour into their recruiting and retention efforts, they will not have access to the full talent pool without committed D&I initiatives.

During a recent LinkedIn Live, I sat down with Michele to discuss observations and advice for firms seeking to strengthen their D&I efforts. Here are the key takeaways from that conversation.

D&I programs satisfy a business imperative.

Organizations understand that promoting diversity is the right thing to do. They are likely aware that compliance requirements and laws also exist around this topic. But they may not realize that D&I is a strategic imperative if they want to remain competitive and grow their businesses.

If the profession is going to serve a broad range of clients and employers, it will have to reflect the ownership and investment of that. Clients, referral sources and other business contacts are all becoming committed to greater diversity, and they seek it in the organizations they do business with.

According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, for example, companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams enjoy better business innovation results. McKinsey found that gender and ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams were correlated with higher performance in profitability.  According to McKinsey, companies in the fourth quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability by 29%.

There are clear and multifaceted benefits to diversity and inclusion initiatives. And it’s clicking with firms of all sizes. CPAs are becoming aware that expectations about diversity and inclusion efforts can have an impact on their bottom line.

It’s impossible to guess what people need.

Although we try our very best to empathize, we are never truly able to understand someone else’s personal experiences. For example, those of us who are not in a minority group cannot comprehend — or possibly even know about — the experiences of those who are. 

During our conversation, Michele noted that many of the young black professionals she works with are the first generation in their family to enter the corporate space. Since they have not grown up seeing or hearing about corporate life from members of their families or communities, they may be uncertain about how to navigate a career within the firm. Michele helps provide a bridge between their experience and what they may not know, for example, how to build professional relationships within and outside the firm.

Firms should take steps to gain more information about underrepresented groups within their organization and help them succeed. Engagement surveys that measure inclusion and coaching or mentoring programs for women and minority professionals are good ways to do that.

You don’t have to take on everything all at once.

Instead of putting a policy or program in place, Michele recommended thinking of your effort as a continuous movement. Start out with some thoughtful steps:

  • Ensure that firm members —including all firm leaders — appreciate the business imperative and changing marketplace expectations. That includes confirming that everyone understands what is meant by diversity and inclusion, how it works and why it matters. Examine diversity at each level, spotting bottlenecks where women or minorities are being held back. A firm can have strong overall diversity statistics but find that women and minorities are mostly stuck in junior levels.
  • Determine why some groups fail to advance or leave the firm, and then develop solutions. AICPA D&I resources for firms include the Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model and the PCPS Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, can both help firms evaluate where they stand on diversity.
  • Develop and track marketplace measures that show how well D&I efforts are helping to grow the business.

Diversity drives innovation

In a fast-changing business environment, firms rely on the creativity and adaptability of their professionals. Clients, too, look to firms for new solutions to the myriad challenges or opportunities they may be facing. Having a diverse team of people around table — from the entry level through the leadership ranks — can ensure that firms have the perspective, experience and insights they need to succeed.   

 

Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, President and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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