IMA ramps up diversity efforts for accountants

The Institute of Management Accountants has been increasing its efforts to encourage more diversity in the management accounting profession, appointing Linda Devonish-Mills earlier this year as its first director of diversity and inclusion and Ginger R. White as chair of the IMA’s global board of directors, with a focus on advancing women in the profession.

Devonish-Mills has been a member of the IMA staff since 2006, and was previously IMA’s director of technical accounting activities, where she kept IMA members and stakeholders informed about the latest technical accounting issues affecting the profession.

“I’ve been with IMA for a while, and the last few years even before this new role has become official, I’ve been taking it upon myself to determine different ways that we can diversify IMA’s membership,” Devonish-Mills told Accounting Today. “It’s great that now I have a full platform to do that.”

She is focusing on several priorities. “We’re working on a leadership pipeline,” she said. “We have an education piece of the role where we’re trying to educate both our members and staff about a variety of topics within the umbrella of diversity and inclusion. We have an outreach component, which pretty much involves me, either through our strategic partnerships for going to schools that have diverse student populations, to talk about the opportunities within the management accounting career, and then we have strategic partnerships that we’re trying to do with diversity and inclusion.”

She is working closely with White on getting a more diverse board at the IMA. “Currently both Ginger and I are focusing on our leadership pipeline,” said Devonish-Mills. “Currently we have a call for nominations for our global board of directors. We have a very large board that’s over 50 members. Even though we’ve been doing very well with gender demographics, when we look at our board not only is it not reflective in terms of what you may see demographically outside of IMA, it’s not representative of the talent that we have within our membership. We’re trying to look at different avenues to encourage members to step up and take leadership positions, not only at the board level but at our chapter and council level as well. It’s amazing to us that a lot of our members that are very talented professionals are not even aware of the leadership opportunities that they can take advantage of. Similar to other organizations, we have to look at things internally. Like they say, clean up the house internally before you even go externally.”

As chair of IMA’s global board of directors for its 2018-2019 fiscal year, White is focusing on three major initiatives: reaching students, advancing women in the profession and maintaining the relevancy of the profession in the face of technological change. She is the fifth woman to hold that position.

“Some of the specific things IMA has been doing is we have a Women’s Accounting Leadership Series,” said White. “It was started by Sandra Richtermeyer, former chair of IMA, as well as Leslie Seidman, former chair of FASB. We’re getting ready to host our nine biannual event, and it's going to be held in Boston in October. We held our first International Women's Accounting Leadership Series in Amsterdam, where I met Gwen [Van Berne], who is from Amsterdam and a CFO of a company there [RIPE NCC], and I’m planning to nominate her as a board member. I’m constantly out looking for talent, regardless of gender or ethnicity. As we look at the global board, what makes a strong board is diversity of thought. It’s really about the best, regardless of that individual’s skill set. We don’t ever want to jeopardize the quality just to meet a diversity goal or target. But we want to get those people who have that same level of capability within those groups. I think the IMA has progressed significantly since I’ve been a part of the global board. It was a lot less diverse than today, and we’ve made great strides.”

Devonish-Mills also sees a need for further progress in diversity among accountants, particularly in management accounting. “There’s a great opportunity to strengthen that diversity and we recognize that,” she said. “That is one of the challenges when you talk about the accounting profession. When you talk to people that are affiliated with IMA, we never refer to the accounting profession as that. We always say ‘management accounting.’ There’s a huge opportunity for us to promote the profession because students in particular are not even apprised of the opportunities that they can pursue in management accounting and private industry. All they hear about is public accounting. I consider myself an accountant professional and, even with diversity and inclusion, I’m still a management accounting professional. But when I was in my undergraduate program about 30 years ago all I heard about was public accounting. In that respect a lot really hasn’t changed that much with the exception of the few schools and companies that get it in terms of promoting management accounting. This focus with diversity and inclusion gives us a huge opportunity to promote our signature credential, which is the CMA designation. There definitely have been some great strides, but there’s still room for growth in that area.”

The IMA chairmanship is a volunteer role, but White works full-time as corporate purchasing finance director at the Cummins Inc., a power generation company based in Columbus, Indiana. The company is known for having a diverse employee base.

“One of the things that Cummins has been a big benefactor of is that we recruit at the Institute of Management Accountants Student Leadership Conference,” she said. “We’ve recruited interns there since about 2008 and we get a very good population of diverse candidates: ethnicity, gender, all of that. Management accounting is what we need in business. We do that and we’ve benefited greatly. The C suite type of opportunity is where I see the bigger gender gap. It’s not necessarily at the entry level, but how do we prepare those individuals to be capable to get to those higher types of positions within industry? I think that might be the challenge to get them there.”

White and Devonish-Mills are also trying to educate members and staff about unconscious bias. In addition, the IMA has been partnering with groups like the Association for Latino Professionals for America and the National Association of Black Accountants.

“We’ve had a long-term relationship now with the National Association of Black Accountants,” said Devonish-Mills. “For many years we were just focusing our relationship on the national level, but we realized that the more critical core of their membership that we should be reaching out to is their students, so I will be attending one of their four regional conferences in October in St. Louis specifically to participate in their career fair to talk to students about opportunities in management accounting. I also will be a speaker at a development session specifically focusing on the CMA designation, and just in general the benefits of being a Certified Management Accountant professional.”

Institute of Management Accountants headquarters in Montvale, N.J.

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