We were honored to facilitate another open forum discussion to explore diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”) in February 2021 for our I2L Innovators Community. We asked participants to share what their biggest challenges were, what was working well so far, and what’s next for them. Once again, they generously granted us permission to share some of the highlights with you to support your personal and organizational growth in DEI.
Firms are grappling with the following challenges:
- Where do we start? Many firms are receiving significant input and feedback. However, there are so many options. Everything feels important, yet it can’t all be tackled at the same time.
- How do we deal with pressures for instant solutions and results? Some people at the firm express strong opinions and express frustration very vocally, pushing for a sense of urgency. These individuals want to see real action and commitment from the firm. How do we balance being thoughtful and intentional with our plans and demonstrate real, tangible progress?
- How can we increase our conversational capacity? Conversations around DEI are new to many firms and employees, and for most, they can feel very uncomfortable. How can we create a brave space where people won’t feel shut down or shut out for sharing their views? How can we ensure people feel heard and encourage them to keep the conversations going?
It’s interesting to note that these challenges were consistent from the first conversation we had with this community in July 2020. This reminds us that DEI requires on-going commitment, long-term focus and dedicated resources.
We also sensed a lot of hope. There is vast power in collaboration. Learning from each other is critical, and by coming together to share our challenges, we normalize experiences and inspire one another to keep moving forward.
Firms are experiencing some valuable learning, insights and progress, including:
Be transparent about why this is important and that it won’t be easy. Be as clear as you can about why the firm is focusing on DEI. Acknowledge that next steps and answers might not be instant, however, the firm is committed for the long-term. These challenges are hard, but worth it. Working through them together will provide opportunities for everyone to communicate in a braver space and connect in ways they never have before. This will create a stronger, more unified firm.
Get help! Several firms hired an outside consultant to assist them in identifying their initial DEI priorities. In some cases, firms started with a DEI assessment to identify areas of opportunity and specific next steps.
Make DEI a permanent aspect of all your development programs. One firm noted they provide certain training, such as sexual harassment, consistently, because creating a safe environment is paramount to them. Similarly, if a firm is committed to an inclusive environment, then firmwide DEI training is necessary and should be part of all learning curriculums. Utilize DEI training (e.g., unconscious bias) to create shared terminology everyone can utilize in conversations. Defining basic terms like diversity, equity and inclusion can provide foundational building blocks for future learning.
Encourage transparent communication, and manage expectations. Provide open channels for everyone in the firm to:
- Express their opinions about DEI
- Provide input about how the firm can improve
- Share their own learning
Listen to and consider all viewpoints. Although not every piece of input can be incorporated into the firm’s plans, the firm can set clear expectations about how the input will be considered (i.e., Ensure this feedback loop is closed.). Additionally, leaders should share when they are unclear about the plan and next steps.
Emphasize the value of continuous learning. Share with the entire firm what is being learned and changed along the way. For example, share specific instances where the firm has learned something through their DEI efforts that impacts or modifies its strategy. Encourage leaders to model vulnerable leadership by sharing their personal journeys – what they have learned and where they have personally struggled – to help shift the mindset of others in the organization. Even if you’re still trying to determine where to start, you can still provide resources and encourage learning conversations. One firm provided a new learning resource each week during Black History Month. Another firm provides educational resources with accompanying questions and assignments to promote DEI-related conversations. Create group learning opportunities to ignite conversations.
We are encouraged by what we heard from these leaders in the profession. Yes, the accounting industry has a lot of hard work to do…And, we have witnessed how much more progress we can make when we do this hard work together.
Let’s create a new Dimension of Possible for the accounting profession – a place where all human beings belong.
See you in the DoP,