Deputy Editor AccountingWEB
Share this content

Engage 2020 Explores How Firms Can Increase Diversity and Inclusion

Since the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses -- accounting firms included -- have been asking themselves how they can be more diverse and inclusive. However, this is a surprisingly hard question to answer, and managers and partners alike want more guidance.

Jul 27th 2020
Deputy Editor AccountingWEB
Share this content
diversity and inclusion
iStock_Wavebreakmedia_diverse

Since the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies, accounting firms included, have been asking themselves how they can be more diverse and inclusive. However, this is a surprisingly hard question to answer, and managers and partners alike want more guidance.

Engage 2020 proved itself willing to continue to talk about tough topics and meet new challenges head on with its diversity and inclusion seminars led by Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion Vice-Chair and Past AICPA Chairman. While acknowledging the subject is sometimes uncomfortable, Ellison-Taylor opened the first session with an attitude of hope. “Now there may be something that I'm not certain of, I will be right up front and say, ‘I don't have all the answers, we’re going to have to work together on this.’ But what I am certain of is that if you care and I care about each other, we can get there together.”

This doesn’t just mean you have support from the industry; it also served as a gentle reminder that consumers are not only paying attention, but they can easily check to ensure a company has lived up to its word. Although diversity is not a new issue, this kind of accountability is a recent element.

So, how can you get started? Ellison-Taylor recommended beginning by understanding why change is necessary. “We need all of our colleagues to just understand that there are some challenges. And you don't have to feel guilt and you don't have to feel shame, just acknowledge it is what it is.” Next, if possible, she suggested opening a dialogue with employees of color to listen to them and get a sense of what’s working well in the firm and what could use some improvement. Don’t just make this a one-time thing, either; set up recurring meetings where employees can offer their thoughts on cultural innovation in a safe environment. If you can’t get this kind of feedback in your firm, she suggests looking elsewhere for input, perhaps from colleagues.

Now you’ll need to draw up a plan with actionable steps to take. This includes double-checking the budget to ensure some is still allotted to diversity and inclusion, as was customary prior to COVID-19. Each firm will have areas it needs to invest in, whether a pay gap needs to be closed or you need to spend more on recruiting. In some instances, such as with small, one-person firms, it might make the most sense to give to education, since the lack of diversity is a larger socioeconomic issue as well. Communicate the plan clearly to your employees and make it clear the path to the top is open to everyone, Ellison-Taylor said. Encourage your allies to join you, as well.

Finally, test out your methods and see if they’re working by mapping someone’s journey through the firm as they rise. “[It’s] part of the data. If you look at [someone’s journey], you can decide the statistically measurable [data] inside your organization. If you notice that someone is on fire (they moved up, they had a clear path, they understood what they needed to do and they got the work that they needed) [and] their evaluations were awesome, well, awesome, that's a nice partner. You can see from the beginning [that] the data shows up. Then you wonder, what about this other person? They started out great, they were excited, they were thrilled to work with the clients and, they had a lot more review notes, but okay, and they didn't necessarily progress through the sum of these milestones. But, you know, we'll see what happens. How many times does it happen? And what can you do to help people move along, what made them get stuck, why didn't they advance like some of your team members?”

It’s possible big changes and more training will be required to achieve your diversity and inclusion goals; in fact, Ellison-Taylor noted middle management is often where a disconnect is felt. While changed is pushed at the top and bottom of the ladder, these individuals are often overlooked and remain unclear on how to change how they operate.

It may sound tough at first, but “[we] have to be willing to be uncomfortable,” Ellison-Taylor concluded. This is an issue that affects us all, and only by working together can we make a change.

AccountingWEB realizes this is a complex situation as well, and unfortunately, one article can’t provide all the answers. That’s why, over the next few months, we’ll be interviewing experts like Walter J. Smith and presenting case studies of firms that have successfully implemented diversity and inclusion strategies so you can learn from them.

Replies (1)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By SkinnVinny
Aug 6th 2020 02:43

You lose credibility when you bring BLM into the discussion. They are a Marxist terrorist organization, despite their benign sounding name. They are openly anti-capitalist and would just as soon burn down an accounting office than apply for a job at one. Let's not be naive here.

Thanks (0)