Auditing Workplace Diversity

Diversity is at the forefront of many company values nowadays, but making sure the measures have tangible effects isn’t so simple. While those companies at least have some actionable measures, sometimes those need to be drafted from scratch, a problem commonly seen in Certified Public Accountant firms, according the American Institute of CPAs.

AICPA recently announced the release of tools that can potentially help other CPA firms put their diversity measures under the microscope. The Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model has more than 100 questions spread over key business areas to begin an assessment process, while the Recruitment and Retention Toolkit aids in keeping diversity at the forefront over a longer period.

While this is targeted at CPA firms, there are wider themes relevant for any company. Kim Drumgo is the AICPA director of diversity and inclusion as well the vice chair of the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion.

Kim Drumgo, AICPA director of diversity and inclusion
Kim Drumgo, AICPA
director of diversity and inclusion

In her interview with Diversity Executive, Drumgo explains the two new tools, the wider impact on diversity and trends in minorities on the accounting track. Below are edited excerpts form the conversation.

The Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model is designed to help companies assess their current diversity and inclusion efforts. When it comes to these initiatives, what do firms frequently leave to be desired?

Many organizations, including accounting firms, are eager to jump right into improving the diversity and inclusion in their organizations. And that enthusiasm is extremely encouraging.

However, fostering an environment that promotes diversity and inclusion requires an accurate sense of where your organization currently stands. The Maturity Model gives firms that knowledge about their organization, which they can use to build a more inclusive culture.

Once they have that understanding, creating the culture essentially becomes a change management initiative, which involves understanding and addressing behaviors of bias and acceptance. While programs like employee resource groups and diversity recruiting are very important, when they are developed with clear understanding of the present organizational culture — rather than in a vacuum as stand-alones — they are more likely to succeed.

What does the assessment process entail and reveal?

The AICPA’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model helps firms and organizations assess their diversity and inclusion practices.

Firms complete the assessment, composed of more than 100 questions that evaluate four key areas of business: 

  • Workforce evaluates the leadership & accountability, strategy and implementation of diversity initiatives, education and learning and communication.
  • Workplace evaluates staffing and recruitment, retention and performance management practices.
  • Marketplace evaluates advertising, marketing, and client services. 
  • Community & Supplier Relations evaluates the organizations commitment to their surround community and suppliers. 

To create a holistic view of the organization, the assessment is designed to be completed by multiple teams including human resources, marketing, and finance.

After completing the assessment, firms will have access to results indicating their diversity maturity across13 specific competencies. The four stages of maturity are:

  • Foundational— Workforce and leadership has a fundamental understanding of diversity and inclusion. However, it is not expected that behaviors and practices in the organization reflect diversity and inclusion best practices.
  • Enlightened — Workforce may have some understanding of the business case for diversity and inclusion.  However, there is not a strategic alignment of diversity and inclusion goals, which holds leaders accountable for measurable outcomes.
  • Integrated— Firm has a viable diversity and inclusion strategy. Diversity and inclusion practices and behaviors are embedded and seen as a part of daily work and as adding value.
  • Optimized— Organization has a diversity and inclusion strategy that is fully aligned, tracks and measures progress and holds leaders accountable for key outcomes tied to the overall organizational strategy.

Once the assessment is complete, firms should begin to take steps to move themselves further along the spectrum. Starting March 2015, firms/organizations will have the ability to compare themselves to others of similar size.

The model speaks about best diversity practices tailored for the accounting profession. What distinguishes the focus for this profession in regards to other ones?

Accounting is a service profession. Generally speaking, firms aren’t developing tangible products for consumers. Rather, the profession is about relationship building, serving as a trusted business advisor and influencing clients. Therefore, the tool emphasizes the culture and dynamics of the workforce and how they can potentially impact both employees and clients.  

You mentioned that although minorities increased in the accounting profession, but their career paths show a “declining trajectory.” Could you expand on this?

There has been a growth in the pipeline of minorities in the accounting profession, however, when you look at the number of CPAs and equity partners in firms, depending on the specific demographic (ethnicity and gender) the numbers are slowing growing, stagnate, or decreasing. 

Our goal with the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion is to both better understand the reasons for that declining trajectory and to work with firms to take steps to correct it.

How is the greater shift of focus on diversity changing workplaces and conversations about diversity?

We are seeing more organizations striving for cultures of inclusion where there is more awareness and appreciation for those who are different.

The greater focus on diversity and inclusion is also changing the way we do business. As the demographics in the U.S. continue to shift, it makes sense that clients and those who employ CPAs expect more diverse workforces. We believe that the firms who are able to understand this fact and have these conversations are also the ones who are more able to recruit and retain talented employees of all backgrounds. And by doing so, they are setting themselves up to thrive in the future.