How to build diversity in your firm

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Diversity isn’t just a buzzword in business; it’s a key to success. A study by McKinsey and Company found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

But many firms are still struggling to truly become diverse and inclusive organizations. The American Institute of CPAs has been discussing the issues since the mid-1960s, and in 1969, the AICPA passed a landmark resolution to open doors of opportunity for people of color to attain CPA licensure. Reaffirming its commitment to bolstering diversity and inclusion in the profession, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants was one of many institutions to recently sign on to the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity & Inclusion.

As we celebrate Black History Month, here are some things accounting firms can do to help drive greater diversity within the profession.

Look at your hiring. Many firms could do more to bolster their diversity efforts through their hiring. According to the AICPA’s 2019 "Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits" survey, 6 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s accounting graduates were black during the 2017–2018 school year, yet only 4 percent of all new graduates hired by CPA firms were black.

At the same time, nearly half (47 percent) of millennials surveyed by the Institute for Public Relations reported that diversity and inclusion were important factors when looking for a new job.

Hold difficult conversations. Race and bias can be sensitive topics for many organizations, but it is impossible to address unconscious bias and racial concerns and challenges without first addressing them. That is why one of the four commitments of the CEO Action Pledge is to hold those difficult conversations to build a culture of inclusivity and open-mindedness. Such conversations can help build a sense of belonging.

In that same “Profit Power” study, 90 percent of employees said they are more engaged when they feel a sense of belonging at work. Only 60 percent are highly engaged when they lack belonging.

Evaluate your current diversity efforts. To truly improve, organizations must know where they are and track progress. The AICPA’s free-to-use Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model gives firms the ability to assess their current diversity and inclusion efforts and identify ways they can improve those efforts to assure meaningful and effective change. By implementing these efforts, in addition to others, firms can enhance their diversity and inclusivity.

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