Organizational Strategies for Improving Diversity and Inclusion
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series
By: Mary L Bennett, CEC, CIA, MBA
The accounting profession, and other financial services organizations, have been working on diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenges and opportunities for decades. Many organizations led the way beginning with a focus on improving gender diversity. Increasingly organizations have moved or are moving to a broader definition of diversity and inclusion defined by gender, ethnicity, age, generation, religion, sexual orientation and many more aspects of our differences and similarities as human beings. The business focus on inclusion is driven by the perfect storm of increased demand for professionals which is outpacing the supply. Some reasons for the perfect storm gap in the supply of accountants and other professionals:
1-Unprecedented retirement numbers of baby boomers
2-Changing demographics in the US not mirrored in the profession ( for example increasingly minority and women owned businesses are dominating the new business ranks but not keeping pace in the accounting profession)
3-Unsustainable turnover rates (among accountants over 25%)
4-Ambiguity or outright lack of attractiveness of traditional long term career paths in the profession
What are the firms of the future doing to prepare for this storm through their diversity and inclusion strategies?
1- Effective firms deeply understand, document and communicate their firm's customized business case for investing resources in the attraction, retention and advancement of those who bring elements of diversity to the firm. All levels of the firm should be considered especially the leadership ranks. A more inclusive culture includes diversity of thought at the leadership level in order to accomplish an effective return on investment. in D&I
2-Successful firms use their customized business case as a starting point to accurately diagnose their firm and its evolution toward building a more diverse and inclusive organization. Diversity is a reflection of the actual ranks of the organization along the dimensions of diversity such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc. Inclusiveness is the degree to which the organization successfully maximizes the benefits of the diversity. Understanding where the organization is in terms of maturity, and therefore readiness for strategy implementation, is essential to avoid common pitfalls. A common example of such a pitfall is implementation of programming before the business case and strategic context is solidly in place. In this situation it is very difficult to obtain buy in from the leadership level and down through the entire organization.
3-Firms effective in building greater diversity and inclusion have a defined and targeted set of strategies that align with the evolutionary readiness of their organization. These always begin with effective business case formation, communication plans and tangible diagnostic preparedness.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article series to learn more about specific strategies organizations use
If we manufacture widgets we use materials, work in process and machines that combine with people power to create a product. If we are in the knowledge business we harness and combine the talents of our people to create the services we sell. We use equipment such as computers to support the service development and delivery and we may have a quasi tangible product such as financial statements or tax returns.
It is difficult to deny, however, that the primary input to the delivery of the services we offer is our people. The raw knowledge of our teams combined with their capability to create value with that knowledge is our "product". Why is it then that in so many Firms we still see more time and effort spent on the upkeep of our IT equipment then we do on the upkeep of our people and their talents. This is not in any way to suggest that we should not invest in our IT equipment but that we consider the technological contributions along side the human contributions.
Our people are our business. If we understand that our people are THE essential asset of our organization we also understand that we must invest in them to maintain and increase the contribution they make. If you are not getting the contribution you need from your people you might ask yourself if you treat them as important organizational assets. Consider some basic tips below:
-We certainly should invest in a regular review of the performance and development of our people- just as we engage in regular review and update of our software and hardware.
-We track our physical business assets but at any given point do we know where are people assets are? Might a competitor be working on pulling these assets out the door ? What does it cost us to replace that talent in time and dollars? How do our clients feel about a revolving service team?
-Unlike machines our people have needs, desires and dreams. Do we know what these are? Do we attempt to provide what they need?
-We continually scan trends in the marketplace to ensure that we are investing in updated and/or new equipment to take our firms into the future. Do we actively evaluate the competencies we will need for the future and follow through in recruiting and development of these new competencies? Do we prepare our culture for these new competencies? Where would we be if we attempted to run our 2012 computers in the technological environment we used in 2000 or earlier? Are we not in some cases attempting to meet the needs of 2012 with the competencies of the past? Or we recognize the need for new competencies but ask them to thrive in the traditional environment of our past?
Our people are our business, does our investment in them reflect this fact?