Leverage Diversity for Small Firm Growth 

by Don McCleod, CPA 

Many opportunities exist within the profession to engage in terms of diversity and inclusion, and these opportunities will only continue to increase over time. Many firms, especially small to mid-size ones, are struggling to not only recruit and retain valuable staff, but also develop a viable succession plan for those Baby Boomer firm owners who are or will be retiring over the next decade. For this reason alone, the profession offers high growth potential for minorities and for firms that recognize the value of a diverse workforce.

Firms may need to recognize that this often underutilized talent pool will bring unique interests, beliefs and cultural backgrounds that will be a tremendous asset in obtaining clients who share those qualities. With globalization and the influx of a new generation into the marketplace, many firms are recognizing the need for a professional staff that is more diverse and inclusive, so that they may more readily identify with a more diverse client base.

In my own experience, I have seen this concept in practice many times. When a team is comprised of a mixture of backgrounds and beliefs, people are able to go into different communities and bring in clients because of their personal connections. For example, I used to work with a woman who was connected to number of women’s organizations and was able to leverage those relationships to grow her client base. I personally am very involved in a number of community organizations based on my own interests and experiences, and have cultivated a very diverse client base as a result. A commitment to being open minded and inclusive can positively affect your bottom line, regardless of firm size.

Engagement at All Levels
Small firms can work to keep minorities engaged at all levels of their careers. Currently, there is a lot of focus on encouraging diversity in the profession at the middle school, high school and college levels. However, after two to five years in a firm, they may feel less engaged in the profession. I think there is a huge opportunity, specifically for smaller firms, to create an alternative. Typically, too much of the responsibility of increasing the number of minority accountants falls on the shoulders of the largest accounting firms. While those firms have made great strides, they represent a small percentage of the opportunities in the accounting profession. There is a large population that could be well served by a similar commitment to diversity and inclusion from smaller firms.

Firms looking to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives should start in the interviewing process. The firm, as well as the professional, should have an understanding of what area of practice is the best fit for that professional. As the professional develops, offer the opportunity to be involved with more ownership of the client work process and client development.  Ensure the professional has access to some form of mentoring opportunities within the firm or explore other mentoring options such as the AICPA mentoring platform. Provide regular feedback, not just during performance evaluations. Seek to gain a better understanding of your co-workers’ diverse backgrounds and talents. Finally, utilize methods for personal time off for cultural celebrations, as well as other inclusive activities to help add to the overall enrichment of the firm.

Opportunity is There
Now is truly the best time for young people of diverse backgrounds to enter our profession. As firms continue to see their client base change socially, culturally and ethnically, they have an opportunity to bring their own unique and personal experiences to help us better serve our clients. A commitment by small and mid-size firms to embrace these opportunities would be instrumental in recruiting and retaining those staff, and will have an impact for the overall good of our profession.

Don McCleod, CPA is a sole practitioner based in Dothan, AL.


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