Drive diversity for a more robust practice – Small steps, Big impact

May 27, 2019

Have you noticed the global economy, which once seemed to take place in faraway destinations, is now operating right in our own communities? Take a good look around when you wait for your next coffee order or stand in the grocery store checkout line. We are increasingly surrounded by people who are different from us, different in the way they think, act, work, dress, make purchasing decisions, relax, celebrate and resolve problems but often we don’t notice. By 2042, minorities are estimated to become the majority in the United States, according to the U.S. Census. Not only will these new majorities look to firms with diverse talent, they will create a new buying power for goods and services. 

Is your practice ready for this transformation? If we want to continue to lead the way as trusted advisors, we must take proactive strides to build more diverse firms so we can attract and serve more diverse clients. Because one thing is for sure - people want to work with those who understand them and make them feel a sense of belonging and importance.

As your firm looks to build a more diverse practice, consider these questions:

  • What does diversity look like in your firm?
  • How prepared is your practice to attract and retain diverse talent in this global economy?
  • What actions do you take to help those who look and think differently from your leaders and team members to feel welcome and accepted?
  • How well equipped is your firm to engage with and retain diverse new clients? 

No matter your answers, it is not too late to make small purposeful steps that can have a big impact going forward. No time to figure it out on your own? No worries. This article is written for you. It introduces new ideas, best practices and resources to help you make positive changes as you look to broaden your talent pipeline and create a more diverse workplace.  

Why now?

What makes the issue of diversity and inclusion so important to address right now? Consider these key findings.

  • Diverse teams are 35 percent more likely to outperform companies with less diversity(McKinsey)  
  • Inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80 percent in team-based assessments(Deloitte)
  • 72 percent of working Americans would or may consider leaving an organization for one they think is more inclusive(Deloitte )
  • 12 million US companies are owned by women, including 39 percent of all privately held businesses(National Association of Women Business Owners)
  • Companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers over a long period(Catalyst)

Building a more diverse and inclusive practice also provides many benefits beyond the numbers that can significantly impact your future success.

  • As CPAs retire in record numbers, new generations will make CPA firm decisions. Practices with diverse talent that reflects client and marketplace needs will be better positioned to retain and manage client relationships going forward.
  • Today’s talent seeks firms actively working toward a diverse and inclusive culture. Diversity is not simply race and gender it includes differentiators such as experience, sexual orientation, age and interests. Attracting diverse talent can result in a more innovative, engaged team and impact competitiveness in an increasingly diverse market.
  • When employees feel welcome and a sense of belonging in a firm they are likely more engaged in their work. This can yield numerous benefits such as increased performance, better decision making, improved client service and retention. 

A roadmap forward

With all these changes, it is no surprise that firms are working to capitalize on these shifting trends. If your goal is to increase diversity in your firm, it will be helpful to develop a roadmap to chart your course. As you get started, consider three main areas of focus, rather than a complex matrix. Then develop strategies and actions that fit into your firm’s overall objectives.

1.       ATTRACT Diverse Talent

2.       RECRUIT Diverse Talent

3.       RETAIN + ADVANCE Diverse Talent

To help with this quest, PCPS has recently launched a new resource, the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit filled with tools such as the Diversity and Inclusion Road Map to help you hire and retain talent that better reflects your community. All of the tools and resources included are easily customizable and ready to be put to work whenever you are ready. And it’s absolutely free to PCPS members. If you are not a PCPS member and would like to become one, you can learn more here.   

Revisit your recruiting plan

If your firm already has a successful recruiting plan in place, this is the perfect starting point to strengthen your search for diverse talent. The key is to target activities that build upon your current ones and position your firm as a supporter of diversity programs in your area. Examine the schools you already recruit at to identify groups and events where more diverse students are involved. Consider other colleges with diverse student populations to support and develop relationships. Check out the Diversity Recruiting Plan Template, located inside the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to help you get started.

  • Does your recruiting plan include colleges that contain diverse student populations?
  • Are you involved in minority groups such as National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) and Pan-Asian Organization for Business Professionals (ASCEND)?
  • Do you have student ambassadors on staff to represent the firm at specific recruiting activities for targeted colleges?

On-boarding diverse employees

The way your firm welcomes each new employee significantly impacts how they feel about your practice. While this is important for all new team members, it is especially important for diverse talent. Done well, it can be an effective step to get them engaged right away. On the flipside, if they do not feel welcome and a part of the team, it can result in a lack of trust and potentially put your firm’s initiatives in jeopardy. They will quickly understand the firm’s intentions were merely quota driven.

  • How does your firm currently on-board its new employees?
  • Do you set clear, realistic expectations for new hires?
  • Does the firm assign a professional to each new employee when they join the firm? Someone who will check in with them regularly during the first year to answer questions, help them understand the firm’s culture and operations and talk through potential problems they encounter along the way?

For more on this, check out Tips for Effective On-boarding.

Listen closely to your employees   

Firms generally do a good job of interviewing professionals before they join and again when they depart but what about when they are active members of the team? Not only is it the best time to get feedback, you can use it to guide necessary adjustments to keep them engaged and on staff. Analyzing why people stay provides valuable information on challenges and opportunities in fostering an inclusive work environment. It is even more important for underrepresented employees to share their experiences. One effective way to start these conversations is through ‘stay interviews’ so you can learn what they enjoy about your firm and why they remain. This powerful tool also provides you with a platform to address their concerns. Ongoing follow-up is essential to update employees on progress toward resolving any issues and showing them someone is listening to and advocating for them.     

  • Do you interview your employees regularly to learn what they enjoy about the firm and why they stay?
  • Do you ask employees if they feel respected and a valued part of the firm?
  • If you receive negative feedback, do you talk through the situation and ask for suggestions to improve or resolve it?
  • Learn more about stay interviews and sample questions you can use to conduct them by visiting this downloadable resource located in the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit.  

Consider sponsorships    

Another proven technique for fostering diversity in your firm is to sponsor scholarships. One such opportunity is the newly created George Willie Ethnically Diverse Student Scholarship and Internship Program. Created in honor of George Willie, CPA, CGMA, a former chair of AICPA’s PCPS Executive Committee and the AICPA Minority Initiatives Committee, this program is one of the ways AICPA works with member firms to broaden the pipeline of talent entering the profession. Here’s how it works. Five firms sponsor five students with up to $100,000 in total scholarships ($20,000 per firm) and provide internships for them during busy season. It is all about coming together for a shared commitment to a diverse, forward thinking profession. If you are interested, the AICPA PCPS Scholarship Taskforce will be accepting applications for the 2021 program later this summer. In the meantime, you can learn more online.   

Small steps, Big results

While changing demographics will create opportunities for CPA firms, capitalizing on them will require work. Success won’t happen overnight but purposeful strides will yield results over time. Before you know it, the diversity you see in your community will be better reflected in your employees and your clients.