Diversity & Inclusion | Leadership / Management

Our DNA must start with DEI

Not sure if you caught the news, but accounting and finance is figuring out this DEI thing.

OK, “figuring out” might be a little strong. We are, in fact, a long way from figuring it out.

But we’re slowly getting closer.

DEI, of course, is diversity, equity, and inclusion, and our profession has sucked at it for a long, long time. But there has been some significant progress lately.

Here's proof: The number of new accounting graduates with diverse ethnic backgrounds to be hired by U.S. CPA firms stood at 35% in 2020, up from 30% two years earlier. “Meanwhile,” says the Journal of Accountancy, “the portion of ethnically diverse partners in accounting / finance functions at CPA firms doubled over a two-year period from 9% to 18%. These included gains with partners identifying as Asian / Pacific Islander (from 4% to 10%), Hispanic / Latino (from 2% to 5%), and Black / African American (from 1% to 2%)."

That's not all. The number of women who reach the partnership level at CPA firms also jumped significantly, from 23% in 2018 to 39 percent in 2020, and the percentage of women CPAs at firms overall increased from 42% to 46%.

So OK, we're making progress. That just means we're not there yet.

Getting there might start with some great thoughts put forth at the ASAE's 2022 Annual Meeting.

The ASAE is the American Society of Association Executives. In essence, it's the association of associations, which serves as proof that there is, in fact, an association for everything. But I digress.

Those ideas for DEI success were put forth recently by four association executives, but they apply to organizations across the board — yours included. Here they are:

  • DEI must live at every level of our organizations, from staff to board to partners to members / clients.
  • If senior leadership is not modeling DEI and talking about it every day, it won't ever be an organizational priority.
  • Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. Be willing to say, "We need some fresh faces and ideas here." Be willing to replace legacy thinking with thoughts from completely new perspectives.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. Every step toward DEI is a step in the right direction.
  • With everything you do, ask one key question: How do we make this initiative more diverse, equal, and inclusive? Embed that question in every level and every activity of your organization.

The bottom line: It's not enough to talk a good DEI game. Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be ingrained in everything we do.

If it's not, we're hypocritical at best ... and destructive at worst.


Bill Sheridan