Engage 2020: A 12-step plan to combat racism and bias

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Accounting firms must be "willing to be uncomfortable" to boost diversity in the profession, according to Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, past chairman of the Association of International CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs, and current executive director of finance thought leadership at Oracle.

Held during Tuesday's (online-only) sessions of the AICPA's 2020 Engage conference, Ellison-Taylor led her webinar, "Inclusion is Good for Business – A 12-Step Plan," to give firms a better idea on where they stand concerning racism and bias.

The 12-Step Plan (pictured below) is meant to give firms an idea of "either where to start, or where to enhance your already existing initiatives that are underway," according to Ellison-Taylor.

"Our profession was already talking about changing times, talent management, diversity and inclusion," she said. "COVID-19 did not change any of those things; it just revealed a lot of the challenges that we thought we had more time to fix, and now, it's all coming together. So now we have to work a little faster, a little harder, a little more creatively, and come together to figure out this massive challenge."

As 2020 has accelerated the need for the profession to make strides in diversity, Ellison-Taylor reminded attendees that such efforts cannot be made by a few, but by the firm as a whole.

"Don't we need diversity in thought? Don't we need a new perspective on how we need to be reviewing challenges, or how we create more revenue opportunities inside our firms?" she asked. "We need everyone as a part of that [diversity] discussion, and everyone to be part of the whole initiative to move the ball forward.”

“Imagine if everyone truly had an equal opportunity to live the best version of themselves," she continued. "We want everyone to know that they have a seat at the table. ... If you're talking about a solution, it has to be together. No one group should feel like they are not a part of this discussion point."

Ellison-Taylor also offered additional context to selected steps in the 12-Step Plan:

  • Step 1: "When we talk about acknowledging the challenges faced by the Black and African-American communities, that's just recognizing that there are challenges. … You can't really manage something if you don't measure it."
  • Step 4: "What happens when the [company] culture thinks it's only for some and not others? We definitely have to be willing to hear honest, candid, courageous feedback. ... We've learned that speaking up does not always work; nobody wants to sever ties and sabotage themselves."
  • Step 6: "We have to be willing to communicate a vision in an environment where everyone feels that they can be a partner, where they can be a CEO [or] the executive director — and they want to. Your pipeline should be robust and full, with all the understanding of, 'We'll do this together.' … If your employees don't love you, how will your customers?"
  • Step 7: "At the end of the day, if we’re going to move the ball forward, it needs to be our allies who help us out with that."

"We have to be willing to be uncomfortable," Ellison-Taylor added. "Why can’t we all put our hands in together and say, 'I don’t know what I can do, but I’ll do what I can.'"

Ellison-Taylor also left attendees with a question about the importance of addressing racism and bias in the workplace culture moving forward:

“If you had the choice … would you choose to be Black?" she asked. "Would you want the loved ones around you to be Black? … If you think it’s a simple matter … then take the seat of the colleagues around you. And if you have hesitation, that’s exactly why you need a 12-step program. … I hope you will continue to be uncomfortable.”

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Diversity and equality Employee engagement Workplace culture AICPA