Creating a Culture of Belonging in Your Firm
by Jacqueline Lombardo, Project Manager
Diversity and inclusion initiatives have received a lot of attention in accounting firms recently and for a good reason. According to the AICPA’s 2019 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and The Deman for Public Accounting Recruits report, 42% of accounting graduates identify as ethnic minorities – increasing from 30% the decade prior. Despite the growth in accounting graduates, total minority hiring by U.S. CPA firms has remained flat since 2012.
Working toward greater diversity and inclusion in the profession is crucial, but too often, firms assemble a task force, change some wording in their handbooks and call it a day. Clearly, paying lip service to these issues isn’t the answer. So what is the right way to approach this topic?
That question has been top of mind for many members of the Boomer Talent Circle lately, so we were excited to welcome Scharrell Jackson, COO at BPM, to talk about creating real diversity and inclusion in firms. Today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite takeaways from Jackson’s session.
Create a culture of belonging
Diversity and inclusion are important, but firms also need to create a culture of belonging. What does this mean?
Jackson suggested thinking of diversity, inclusion and belonging in terms of a party.
Diversity is what we see. There is a diverse group of people at the party, with different backgrounds, cultures, genders, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations represented.
Inclusion is the foundation that enables diversity. How did all of these diverse people wind up at this party? They were invited!
Belonging is what allows the guests at the party to be who they are without fear of judgment. When they hit the dance floor, they won’t be judged on how well (or how poorly) they dance.
When we look at it that way, it’s easy to see why diversity and inclusion aren’t enough. To have a thriving workplace culture, you need to ensure people can be themselves and express their passions and still feel like they are seen, heard and belong in your firm.
Take real action
Many diversity and inclusion initiatives focus on hiring. That’s a good start, but creating a culture of belonging requires a more holistic look. Who is at the top of your firm? Who are your vendors? Who are your clients? Firms need to strive for diversity, inclusion and belonging at all levels and areas – not just in new hires coming through the door.
Like any initiative, you need clarity on your end goal and a way to measure progress. Some examples of clear, measurable goals include increasing the number of female partners in the firm by 30% or having ten vendors that are minority-owned businesses.
Whatever your goals, you need:
Buy-in from top-level leaders
Champions for these initiatives in all areas of your firm
A means of tracking success
Transparency and accountability throughout the entire firm
Without these key ingredients, your goals will never become a reality.
Everyone has biases
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups or people that individuals form outside of their conscious awareness. They may be influenced by media, social settings, upbringings and experiences throughout our lives.
Having conversations about these biases is tough. They push us into uncomfortable areas, but to have a successful initiative and real conversation, sometimes we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Jackson recommends starting the conversation with a simple question: Can we have a conversation where we give up the right to be offended? This can open the doors to having conversations that help develop understanding.
You won’t change everyone
As much as we wish every initiative could be 100% successful, not everyone wants to have these tough conversations. Jackson recommends focusing on the things you CAN change instead of the things you cannot change.