D&I initiatives: a strategic imperative
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D&I initiatives: a strategic imperative

Dec 17, 2019 · 3 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

Ensuring diversity & inclusion remains high on an organization’s agenda is key to long-term success and growth. Because this topic is so important, I have made raising awareness of this initiative my personal goal, and I‘m having conversations like these with key players throughout the accounting and finance profession on tactics they’ve implemented.

Staff is the greatest investment in your firm, and often recruiting, growing and maintaining the best and the brightest talent are critical priorities for firms. It’s also exactly what Michele Meyer-Shipp finds so vital about her role as chief diversity officer at KPMG. No matter how much time and energy firms pour into their recruiting and retention efforts, they will not have access to the full talent pool without committed D&I initiatives.

During a recent LinkedIn Live, I sat down with Michele to discuss observations and advice for firms seeking to strengthen their D&I efforts. Here are the key takeaways from that conversation.

D&I programs satisfy a business imperative

Organizations understand that promoting diversity is the right thing to do. They are likely aware that compliance requirements and laws also exist around this topic. But they may not realize that D&I is a strategic imperative if they want to remain competitive and grow their businesses.

If the profession is going to serve a broad range of clients and employers, it will have to reflect the ownership and investment of that. Clients, referral sources and other business contacts are all becoming committed to greater diversity, and they seek it in the organizations they do business with.

According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, for example, companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams enjoy better business innovation results. McKinsey found that gender and ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams were correlated with higher performance in profitability. According to McKinsey, companies in the fourth quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability by 29%.

There are clear and multifaceted benefits to diversity and inclusion initiatives. And it’s clicking with firms of all sizes. CPAs are becoming aware that expectations about diversity and inclusion efforts can have an impact on their bottom line.

It’s impossible to guess what people need

Although we try our very best to empathize, we are never truly able to understand someone else’s personal experiences. For example, those of us who are not in a minority group cannot comprehend — or possibly even know about — the experiences of those who are.

During our conversation, Michele noted that many of the young black professionals she works with are the first generation in their family to enter the corporate space. Since they have not grown up seeing or hearing about corporate life from members of their families or communities, they may be uncertain about how to navigate a career within the firm. Michele helps provide a bridge between their experience and what they may not know, for example, how to build professional relationships within and outside the firm.

Firms should take steps to gain more information about underrepresented groups within their organization and help them succeed. Engagement surveys that measure inclusion and coaching or mentoring programs for women and minority professionals are good ways to do that.

You don’t have to take on everything all at once

Instead of putting a policy or program in place, Michele recommended thinking of your effort as a continuous movement. Start out with some thoughtful steps:

  • Ensure that firm members —including all firm leaders — appreciate the business imperative and changing marketplace expectations. That includes confirming that everyone understands what is meant by diversity and inclusion, how it works and why it matters. Examine diversity at each level, spotting bottlenecks where women or minorities are being held back. A firm can have strong overall diversity statistics but find that women and minorities are mostly stuck in junior levels.

  • Determine why some groups fail to advance or leave the firm, and then develop solutions. AICPA D&I resources for firms include the Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model and the PCPS Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, can both help firms evaluate where they stand on diversity.

  • Develop and track marketplace measures that show how well D&I efforts are helping to grow the business.

Diversity drives innovation

In a fast-changing business environment, firms rely on the creativity and adaptability of their professionals. Clients, too, look to firms for new solutions to the myriad challenges or opportunities they may be facing. Having a diverse team of people around table — from the entry level through the leadership ranks — can ensure that firms have the perspective, experience and insights they need to succeed.

Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA

Barry C. Melancon is the CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the most influential body of professional accountants in the world with 650,000 members and students. Formed in 2017, it combines the strengths of The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which Melancon also leads as President & CEO.

Melancon joined the AICPA in 1995 when he was 37 years old, and is now the longest serving CEO in the organization’s 129 year history. Under his tenure, the AICPA has grown to become the largest membership body of CPAs in the world and has spearheaded a number of initiatives to benefit not only the profession, but also investors, business owners, lenders and the general public. These include audit quality centers; private company reporting standards; eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL); the computerized CPA exam; and two consumer financial literacy education programs.

Under Melancon’s leadership in 2011, the AICPA formed a joint venture with CIMA to elevate management accounting globally. They created the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation for those professionals who meet the highest benchmark of rigor and quality. Today, approximately 150,000 professionals hold the CGMA designation worldwide. Building on this success, AICPA and CIMA members in June 2016 voted to evolve the joint venture into the Association. Its mission is to drive a dynamic accounting profession around the world that powers trust, opportunity and prosperity. Melancon was named the Association’s first CEO.

Melancon is also Global Chairman of the Board of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), Chairman of XBRL-US, and a founding and current board member of both the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA) and the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ). He is a founding and current board member of the Government Transformation Initiative, serves on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, and is a member of the delegation to the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). During 2007-2008, Melancon served on the U.S. Department of the Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession.

Melancon has testified for the profession before Congress numerous times, has been honored with many awards, including the 2011 National Association Executive of the Year.

Prior to joining the AICPA, Melancon served for eight years as Executive Director of the Society of Louisiana CPAs. He began his accounting career in 1979 at a small CPA firm in Louisiana. In 1984, he was elected a firm partner. Melancon graduated in 1978 from Nicholls State University in Louisiana, majoring in accounting with a minor in government. He also earned an MBA in 1983 from Nicholls State University and subsequently served as an adjunct professor of accounting at his alma mater for four years. He was also awarded his alma mater’s first and only Honorary Doctorate of Commerce in 2008.

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