Pioneers of inclusion

The industry-leading accounting firms driving equality and equity for all

What makes a successful accounting firm? Growing profits, happy clients or a diverse and inclusive workforce where everyone feels equally valued? All three criteria are important for business resilience, but pioneering firms within Praxity Global Alliance are placing greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion as a benchmark for success. Firms such as Plante Moran, DHG and Mazars have developed comprehensive strategies to foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce. These firms believe a proactive approach is not only the right thing to do for equality and harmony but also the right thing to do for personal and business development. Here, we catch up with some of the leading advocates for diversity and inclusion to find out how new HR initiatives to accommodate age, race, gender, religion and other ‘differences’ are transforming workplaces.

Fighting racial injustice

The importance of diversity and inclusion strategies has been underlined by a spate of high-profile cases of racial injustice in the USA. This has prompted firms to drive improvements internally and campaign externally for a better world. Effin Logue, Chief People Officer at DHG, explains: “In early 2020, we hired a leader of Inclusion and Diversity for the firm. We have been very deliberate, both internally and externally, in our actions and focus this year as our nation, and the world, face racial injustice. We recognize that either organizations step up as part of the solution, or we remain part of the problem. Additionally, we know that making people comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is the first important step within our firm and our communities. “We held a firm-wide session titled ‘Being Black in America’ to help create an understanding of what our black team members face; as black people in the US, as black professionals, and as black employees at DHG. Over 2,000 of our people attended this session.

“We subsequently held over 60 separate, smaller ‘Unity Workshop’ group sessions for every office and department within DHG to facilitate dialogue and conversation among our team members related to what they learned from the Being Black in America sessions. We deliberately kept the sessions small at around 35 employees per session to facilitate dialogue. “Externally, we held a webinar attended by over 600 attendees, mostly clients, to share what we are doing and provide ideas of the things other companies can do to create a more inclusive environment.” “We have also partnered with YBLA (Young Black Leadership Alliance), a local organization in our headquarters location of Charlotte, North Carolina, and have sponsored weekly community group discussions intended to create more awareness around racial equity, and to have a commitment of 2,000 deliberate actions in 2020 related to improving racial equity locally.”

Tackling implicit bias

One of the challenges of rolling out diversity and inclusion programmes is how to measure their effectiveness and evidence their success. This is particularly tricky when it comes to the notion of implicit bias – the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Implicit bias can have a significant impact on a firm’s recruitment and retention programme. Taking steps to address this bias can lead to greater diversity and create a more inclusive workplace environment. Explaining a way forward, Regan says: “We’re leveraging our existing data and analytics in new ways to enhance our diversity recruiting and retention efforts. This includes identifying potential areas of implicit bias that impact the progression of diverse staff and finding opportunities to better support diversity, including creating additional staff resource groups to provide a stronger sense of belonging at the firm.”

She adds: “Our Inclusion & Diversity Council has also created informational sessions or ‘roadshows’ where our office and/or service group leaders discuss our current data statistics and the progression of our diverse staff in each of their areas. We highlight how implicit bias can show up in our environment through staff utilization, performance, and progression opportunities, along with presenting tools and discussing mitigants to help combat these biases. Our goal is to position our leadership teams to effectively coach their leaders and staff in areas of inclusion and instil the feeling of belonging which will positively impact staff retention.” Similarly, DHG has sponsored Implicit Bias training sessions for new hire, recruiters, and even clients for the past two years, all intended to drive awareness and educate staff. And DHG is now doing even more. Effin explains: “We are in the midst of finalizing our Allyship program, a platform that will help bring awareness to the challenges our team members face and how we can assist. We continue to encourage our people to learn as much as possible, both through our DHG offerings and through podcasts, blogs, movies and books. We now have a number of local office virtual ‘book clubs’ at which employees read, or watch, or listen to, an assortment of items to help educate ourselves on matters of systemic inequities in our society, and we then share our perspectives during the book club meetings themselves.”

Improving recruitment policies

Progressive Praxity participant firms are also ramping up efforts to attract more diverse people into the profession – one of the biggest challenges facing HR departments. Plante Moran recently completed its 2020 ‘Track’ internship programme, which is designed to expose first and second year racially diverse university students to careers in accounting and finance. The 2020 programme featured the firm’s largest group of diverse interns to date, doubling the number of students from the previous year, and included a virtual initiative to provide students with access to staff in over 30 different service areas.

“We see the Track internship as being mutually beneficial: the firm is exposing diverse students to the world of professional services and providing opportunities to enhance their professional development while the firm builds a stronger, more inclusive workforce,” Regan explains. DHG sponsors the PhD project, an association created 25 years ago with the goal of greatly expanding the number of minority professors in business schools. Effin comments: “The PhD project understood very early on that many minority students will look at the profiles of professors at colleges and universities, see that ‘no one looks like me’, and self-select into majors in which they feel more naturally included. This is a perfect example of a systemic inequity, and DHG is proud to sponsors the PhD Project and help advance the number of minority professors in business school.”

Driving best practice

In keeping with the Praxity ethos of Empowering Business Globally, participant firms within the Alliance are working together to establish benchmarks of success in inclusion and diversity for other firms to follow. Commenting on this highly collaborative approach, Regan says: “We have recurring calls with the diversity leaders at DHG and Moss Adams to share ideas, discuss best practices, and explore lessons learned. Our human resources leaders also have recurring calls with their Praxity counterparts to exchange information and discuss best practices.” Together these pioneering firms, and many others within the Alliance, are shaping the future of the profession by campaigning for equality for all and creating more inclusive workplaces for the benefit of employees, firms and their clients around the world.