Why accountants should take notice of diversity and inclusionWhy accountants should take notice of diversity and inclusion

We saw an interesting discussion started by our friends at ICAEW about the importance of diversity within the profession, and why accountants at any stage in their career should pay attention to it.

Following on from their Member Spotlight event featuring Catherine Vaughan (partner and diversity champion at EY Ireland), ICAEW have prompted us all to think about the relevance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) for accountants, how and to whom we communicate such messages, and practical steps we can take to make the profession more inclusive.

Four reasons why D&I matters

Firstly, there is a moral obligation within the profession to be trustworthy. Accountants provide guidance, which often involves moral guidance on particular matters as well. By promoting diversity and inclusivity, the profession should be an example of how people should behave.

Secondly, there are tactical reasons for why accountants should care about D&I. Research shows that if an organisation excels at D&I, its workers are better at teamwork and collaboration, retention rates are higher, and they tend to have better market share and a greater chance of succeeding in new markets. These facts demonstrate how important D&I is to stability, growth and success of businesses.

Thirdly, accountants have to always have one eye on the future as well as managing what’s happening now. Building partnerships that will be profitable in the future means keeping one step ahead of the game, and keeping all options open. Key questions might be: where is my pool of future talent? Am I doing enough to help them develop?

Finally, D&I goes hand in hand with empathy – a word not often heard in accountancy! But clients often want to feel empathy between their accountants and and themselves. For people to believe that you will help them, there has to be a level of understanding. You have to be able to identify with them, and openness to new people and ideas is an important part of that.

Communicating D&I topics

Once you’re sorted on your position and policy in relation to diversity and inclusion, how and to whom should accountants communicate these for maximum effect? In general, your audience will be people of privilege: white, male (and some female), cis, middle-aged and well-educated, who are running the show and need to make changes. As accountants, you have an obligation to convince yourself and your colleagues and counterparts to do the right thing. It is not enough to assume this is ‘someone else’s responsibility’ – inclusion is everyone’s responsibility all of the time.

When communicating, it is important to understand what is being asked of people. It is more than a ‘tell’ instruction, ie ‘you need to be more diverse’, rather it is an ask for change management. Succession planning is a good example. When a white person is always being replaced by a white person, a man is always being replaced by a man, and a straight person is always being replaced by a straight person, there is no change. Questions should be asked about who is making decisions around these replacements and how those patterns can break, most importantly, to include people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives in the decision-making process.

Practical steps

It is helpful for organisations (and teams) to have D&I scorecards, which include things like percentage of women in leadership roles, gender and ethnicity pay gaps, training and development opportunities and requirements etc. Other measures involve self-identification from staff. Employee groups are also important, whether related to ethnicity, education diversity, gender or sexual identity, religion or other areas.

It’s also important to look beyond university degrees for recruitment. For example, many LGBT+ young people become excluded from the home and thus face higher barriers to completing formal education. They may be talented, but on paper they do not tick the expected boxes. You might be losing your highest potential future talent without even meeting them. Apprenticeships are now a very popular method of training new accountants from diverse backgrounds, so this is something to consider.

Essentially, it’s all about going back to the core values of our profession which relate to fairness, equity and trust. All accountants have a moral obligation to remember that. Diversity and inclusion give you the reason to find out why someone is different and then to invite them in to express that difference and contribute to your success.

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