Today, the need for diversity and inclusion within accounting practices is becoming increasingly evident. It’s a reality reflected in the results of the 2017 CPA Firm Diversity and Inclusion report, announced today at Xerocon Austin. In 2017, Caucasians represented 83% of all employees and 95% of all partners. These figures are not reflective of the diversity in Bachelor’s and Master’s programs.

Today, all organizations need to focus on creating a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion. In her Xerocon keynote, Jina Etienne, former CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants, shared how diversity is like being invited to the party, and inclusion is being invited to dance.

Culture at the root

Jina explained that creating a diverse and inclusive business starts not with recruiting and maintaining diverse talent but by establishing a culture where diversity and inclusion are at the core. She told attendees to imagine trying to shoot a target without standing still. She likened this to firms not having a very clear goal that they’re trying to achieve.

“It’s like trying to hit a target that they can’t see,” Jina explained. “You can only achieve your goals if you know what they are”.

Jina went on to explain that despite diversity programs across the accounting profession setting diversity and inclusion goals: If their culture isn’t ready and their people don’t understand why these goals are being set they will be meaningless. She doesn’t want people to look at diversity and inclusion as a color coding and checking boxes exercise – rather, she wants them to have genuine discussions about why we must all drive diversity.

“The profession needs to get honest about what success looks like and headcount x y z isn’t the answer,” Jina explained.

Diversity means different

Jina explained that when diversity is the topic, people tend to think in terms of themselves and to define minority groups as an HR sub-group to problem-solve for.

“The beauty of innovation as the framework is that it allows us—in fact almost requires us—to bring our unique selves as a core value,” Jina said. “As a result, ‘diversity’ becomes an intuitive asset, and ‘inclusion’ is required to foster an innovative culture. Everybody’s unique ideas, perspectives, and style are celebrated – and necessary to achieve the results we all want for our clients.”

It’s undeniable that diversity creates successful businesses. Companies with a more diverse culture have greater economic performance, shareholder value and higher innovation. Research from McKinsey emphasizes that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform gender homogenous companies and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their industry counterparts.

A team that has diversity of thought and perspective more accurately represents society – and has far more insight into the needs of its customers. Jina stated that a CPA firm simply can’t effectively serve, represent, understand, and consult with clients they don’t understand.

“To drive growth, innovation and profit margins you have to have all of us in the room,” Jina said.

Looking outwards

Having inclusion and diversity in your business means much more than hiring a diverse headcount. Build your culture around these values but most importantly be inquisitive and open minded about others’ opinions and ideas. Jina appealed to attendees to “think like a kid – ask not “why”, but “why not? Because curiosity is the opposite of judgement”.

“If you never change your mind or see things from a different perspective, the same experience will perpetuate itself over and over again”.

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