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Diversity and inclusion is a marathon, not a sprint

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Accounting firms that foster environments that encourage people to bring their authentic selves to work can reap significant value. Wholeheartedly embracing employees for who they are creates a more engaged and exciting environment for solving clients’ problems, and building a diverse workforce creates a stronger organization. Diversity and inclusion is vital to a firm’s success, but it takes time to develop a D&I strategy.

Defining the D&I North Star

Instilling diversity and inclusion into the DNA of a firm is a long-term initiative, so where is the best place to start? A true commitment starts from the top.

Firm leadership should be intentional about its D&I “North Star,” or ultimate goal. What is the firm trying to achieve? How does this goal align with the firm’s culture and values?

Every firm’s North Star will look a little different, but no matter the form it takes, leadership support of the D&I strategy is critical. Firm leadership should make diversity and inclusion an explicit top priority, and it should champion initiatives and measure progress. In this way, leadership can help build a foundation that resonates with the entire firm.

Understanding the business case

Prioritizing D&I in the workplace is the right thing to do, but a strong business case it also exists. Building a workforce that includes, supports, and promotes people of color, women, LGBTQ workers, people from different generations, and individuals with disabilities results in a stronger organization.

Not only do more diverse teams bring a wider perspective to the table, but they demonstrate a firm’s commitment to D&I, which clients and prospects value. Ultimately, diverse and inclusive environments add value that can lead to new clients, new ways to solve problems, and new revenue sources. Further, research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations tend to fare better during recessions.

Building recruitment strategies

Recruitment is one of the main functions to consider in any D&I strategy. Who is the firm actively seeking to attract? If a firm is always recruiting from the same places, it likely is limiting its pool of potential employees. Recruitment strategies should include different populations of recruits and different ways to attract diverse candidates to the firm.

For example, historically black colleges and universities represent an excellent opportunity to connect with a diverse population. Firms also should consider any nontraditional schools that they previously have overlooked. A different university could open the door to the diverse hires firms are seeking.

Accounting firms don’t necessarily need to look beyond their current university recruiting grounds. Instead, they can connect with different diversity groups on campus, such as the National Association of Black Accountants. Partnering with student chapters of professional organizations such as NABA can help introduce firms to a wide array of potential recruits.

Retaining talent

Once the firm has begun to recruit more diverse team members, it is important to maintain and nurture a diverse and inclusive environment. Bringing new talent on board is one thing; keeping employees engaged is another. Effective retention strategies include:

  • Mentorship programs. Facilitating mentorship programs that encourage relationship building between veteran personnel and new hires can help employees engage with team members and grow within the firm.
  • Speakers. Bringing in different speakers to present on various D&I topics demonstrates that the firm is committed to education and to improving its commitment.
  • Volunteering in the community. Providing employees opportunities to actively participate in D&I initiatives outside of the organization’s four walls helps show the firm’s commitment to diversity.
  • Diversity groups. Supporting the establishment and growth of diversity groups within the firm and helping make sure leadership is genuinely involved in listening to and supporting these groups is another way for a firm to retain top talent.

Taking the long view

By nature, accountants want to solve problems as quickly as possible, but D&I is not an overnight achievement. Instead, it is a long-term commitment that requires continual improvement.

While slow progress might be frustrating, an opportunity exists to put the numbers to work. First, firms should establish a baseline and set concrete goals. Then, after implementing D&I recruiting strategies and internal initiatives, they should measure progress on a year-over-year basis.

As new D&I strategies roll out, mistakes are inevitable. Firms should strive to make the process as meticulous as possible, and they should not be afraid to lean on outside consultants to help solve problems and suggest alternative strategies.

Firms should view open challenges about D&I strategies as milestone achievements, rather than as setbacks. Being challenged means that people are noticing that a firm is making an effort to improve. The natural reaction to being challenged might be to go on the defensive, but firms should invite feedback — positive and negative — and use it to strengthen their organization.

All in

Remember, D&I is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the way, each firm will need a different solution. But no matter the solution, firms should encourage all personnel to become actively involved in building a path to a more diverse and inclusive workplace. If everyone runs the race together, they will make it to their D&I North Star.

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