We were honored to facilitate another open forum discussion to explore diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”) during our 2022 I2L Innovation Lab, our annual, virtual conference for Learning & Development (L&D) Leaders at accounting firms.

This year, we asked participants to collaborate and share what’s working well and their toughest challenges. These leaders generously granted us permission to share their insights with you in hopes you walk away with one new idea that takes you a step further on your organization’s DEI journey.

What’s working well:

  • Just get started! Knowing where to start can feel hard and overwhelming. Start by participating in the AICPA’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model survey, which will provide benchmarking data and help you monitor your firm’s progress. Hire a consultant to help you define your strategy, just as you would for any other major initiative at your organization.
  • DEI must be integrated into the firm’s strategic vision and plan. Use an intentional approach and process to build DEI into the fabric of the organization. DEI should not be seen as a separate “initiative,” siloed on its own.
  • Commitment of executive leadership is critical. Leadership teams must model inclusive values and behaviors. This creates a trickle-down effect and helps other employees buy in.
  • Lead with inclusion. If organizational policies, processes and culture do not support inclusivity, diverse candidates will see right through it. When you create a truly inclusive workplace, you will more naturally attract diverse candidates. DEI efforts will feel easier when you’re creating a place that supports anyone, regardless of how they identify, and allows them to show up at work as they truly are.
  • To create any real shift, actions must follow words. Have meaningful conversations. Dedicate necessary resources to DEI. Consider hiring a full-time individual dedicated to this area. Employees will quickly discern whether you are “checking a box” or putting forth meaningful efforts.
  • Create spaces where people feel psychologically safe to share, discuss and debates emerging trends and issues they are seeing and experiencing. Ensure they feel supported and empowered. Employee Resource Groups could be part of the solution, where employees who share a specific aspect of their identity can feel supported and encouraged to bring their whole selves to the table.
  • Include micro-learning around specific DEI themes in your professional development curriculum to make education continuous and digestible. For example, you could start with unconscious bias and build from there. Acknowledge that you are not experts in this, and bring in external consultants and trainers to support your efforts.
  • Take advantage of increased recruiting efforts due to the “Great Resignation,” and focus on more diverse hiring. Find new places to share job postings and connect with candidates you may have missed in the past.

Addressing some of the biggest challenges:

  • To move beyond a great idea and a mission statement to a strategy that gets implemented:
    • Immediately talk in strategic terms and ask yourselves, “What will we do?” to ensure that strategy gets implemented.
    • Leverage L&D to create and implement training programs that support underrepresented groups. Provide a safe space for employees to share where they want to go in the organization and the challenges they face. Provide relevant professional development that supplies the specific skills they need to advance in the organization. Investing in the people who are experiencing the challenges first-hand can provide better outcomes.
  • To ensure DEI is integrated throughout the firm and embedded in the day-to-day fabric of the organization:
    • Determine and measure specific metrics and benchmarks to assess progress. Are you achieving the goals you set out to accomplish? Are you taking advantage of teachable moments? Is everyone contributing?
    • Create an anonymous reporting system for people to safely share when things are not working.
  • To create a more inclusive workplace:
    • Organizations are transformed through education. Tap into L&D to offer learning that will expand perspectives and result in different behaviors and decisions. Consider having executive leadership kick-off trainings to set the tone and reinforce the message.
    • Define what inclusiveness means for the organization and educate employees around this. Drive that change through policies and processes.
  • To cultivate a space where people feel psychologically safe to share experiences:
    • Use technology to create a platform for anonymous sharing. For example, people could submit thoughts and questions using the Social Q&A feature in the Conferences i/o app (with identifiers turned off), and others could “up-vote” them. When people see that their thoughts or questions were encouraged, they could gain more confidence to share the information without anonymity in the future.
    • Designate a trusted person that people can share concerns and questions. This person could gather information on behalf of others and present it to leadership. With time, when people respond positively to questions and concerns, people could feel safer speaking out without anonymity in the future.
  • To ensure follow-through on commitments, despite busy schedules:
    • Hire a full-time person to lead the charge for DEI. This person can follow up with others at the organization to ensure continued progress and accountability.
    • Don’t allow “lack of time” to be an excuse. Create opportunities for everyone to participate in DEI at various commitment levels.
  • To foster more diverse campus recruiting practices:
    • Don’t just focus on students who are CPA-eligible. Consider different majors. Remember that much of learning happens on-the-job.
    • Host outreach programs to connect with students earlier in their career. For example, host financial literacy programs in high school so students can learn about accounting as a career path.
    • Host recruiting events at different times of day to be more accessible to all candidates.

This is the third DEI session we’ve had with this community since 2020, and we hope you’ll tap into the insights from our previous conversations:

We are heartened to see how the conversation is evolving as some meaningful progress is made, and we are encouraged by the level of commitment and collaboration demonstrated by many leaders in the accounting profession.

Yes, we still have a long way to go, but we will get there faster together.

See you in the DoP,

P.S. Diversity, equity and inclusion are top of mind and heart for us at I2L, and we offer programming specifically around creating inclusion and belonging. Please let us know how we can use our influence to support you and the profession in making positive change. We deeply welcome your feedback, ideas, requests and further dialogue at any time.