CFOs must act with the intention of making diversity a reality

Companies must be more active and more intentional in hiring and developing people from diverse backgrounds to reap the rewards of greater equity and inclusion, said a group of diversity experts representing accountants, recruiters and academics at an AICPA and CIMA conference.

More than a human resources task, promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) requires that leaders of the suite, including CFOs, be prepared not only to onboard diverse candidates, but to guide them to success, they said.

“To be truly effective, DCI must be everyone’s responsibility,” said Tracey Walker, RSM US national government affairs, cultural diversity and inclusion manager. “Inclusion starts with I. This means that we, as individuals, own the trip… you have to be a participant to achieve the results,” said Walker, who is based in Washington, DC.

She participated in a panel discussion at the 2021 AICPA & CIMA CFO conference on May 6 on the role CFOs can play in advancing DCI.

Panelists discussed how CFOs can encourage their company executives to shake up their recruiting strategies and build a pool of skilled and experienced talent from diverse backgrounds to better diversify leadership positions.

CFOs can also empower managers on their teams to employ a more diverse workforce and provide an inclusive work environment. Greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce gives companies a broader approach to solving problems that will bring substantial and tangible benefits, the speakers said.

In his 2020 Diversity wins report, McKinsey & Company showed that companies with more women at the executive level were 25% more likely to outperform financially in 2019 than less mixed companies.

When it comes to ethnic and cultural diversity, the study showed that companies in the top quartile outperformed those in the bottom quartile by 36% in terms of profitability in 2019.

The symbolic hiring is doomed to backfire, panelists told attendees. Instead, leaders need to make themselves vulnerable and reap the benefits of employing people who might not be like them or share a common background.

“Are they ready to accept different styles, different looks and different colors?” said Stephen Rivera, CPA, CGMA, Johnson & Johnson vice president, global technical accounting policy and advisory services.

“You don’t get a great team when everyone looks and feels like you. You have to have this diverse roster of different candidates… the thought process and the energy, and even the differences in the way people think, gets you to a great place.

Plugged

Employing specialist recruiters to actively seek out more diverse candidates and tap into a wider variety of business networks are two ways companies are starting to change their hiring, speakers said.

The increase in working from home means that companies are no longer limited to attracting diverse applicants to a local pool, but can employ people to work remotely from all over the country, Rivera said.

But the process doesn’t end on an employee’s first day on the job. Once on board, new recruits should be given a fair chance and opportunities to thrive.

“Integration doesn’t just happen at the beginning. It’s a journey. And especially when you are dealing with a marginalized community, you need to make sure you prepare them for success, ”said Angelina Brathwaite, Toronto-based senior client partner at recruiter Brunel International. “It’s always good to have that point of contact with that person so you can help them navigate the system.”

Mentoring, coaching and sponsorship can prove invaluable, while internal networking and support groups for employees play an important role in building a better understanding of diverse backgrounds and allies, said the speakers.

But to truly boost DCI, CFOs need to take a holistic view of their teams and implement practices and training to help erase the systemic biases that have made it harder for people from diverse backgrounds to be successful.

Ensure fairness

“We are talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. But what does that mean? ”Said Tina Harris, Ph.D., professor and endowed president of race, media and cultural literacy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who also hosted the discussion.

“We know what the definitions are, but are we going to do more than just have this physical representation of diversity, make people feel included and ensure fairness?” she said.

To make a long-term difference, CFOs need to step out of their desks and comfort zones to join college students, the profession’s pipeline. They should explain why accounting and finance and their own businesses are positive places to work.

They should emphasize their commitment to creating a diverse corporate culture and their willingness to mentor and guide candidates throughout their careers, the speakers said.

Going further, CFOs should also partner with high schools to help spark interest from a diverse mix of students around a career in accounting and finance, the speakers said.

More than ever, DEI is a two-way street. Tech-savvy students do their own research on how companies stack up against each other and make sure to apply to companies that offer them the chance for a successful career in a safe environment, said Walker of RSM.

“Inclusion is not about counting people; it makes people matter, ”she says. “So any leadership on the sidelines, while waiting for something miraculous to happen, you miss it, because every individual has to be the change.”

Sophie hares is a freelance writer based in Mexico. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a FM editor-in-chief of the magazine, at [email protected].

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