Greater diversity in senior leadership has never been more urgent

During the first two months of the year we regularly see there is an upwards trend in enquiries in the conference and events industry for events focused on 8 March , International Women’s Day.   This trend has been traditional for many years as companies have almost been given permission to use this day as a reason for discussing inclusion and diversity within the workplace.  

From what we have seen within the accountancy profession this topic shows no sign of going away anytime soon. While in the UK we can see women hold over 50% of the roles within the legal and accounting profession, and globally circa 60%, less than 20% occupy top leadership positions.

This trend isn’t too dissimilar across all industries. It’s a good thing that over the past few years inclusion and diversity has moved in the right direction away from being something that is acknowledged by business and spoken about at specific marked points in time such as the 8 March, to a critical strategic element of a business and the success it aspires to achieve.  The focus around diversity and inclusion is moving more into a continual year-round conversation concentrated on action rather than just words.

Accountancy firms we work with now understand, for a myriad of reasons, a diverse workplace is a massive benefit for them.  Diversity and inclusion is no longer just about doing the “right thing” as it fundamentally has tangible benefit to the business.  I want to focus on two reasons why this is the case.  

Firstly, as businesses strive more and more for authenticity, both for their customers as well as their employees, it appears there has been the dawning realisation that this means the workplace should represent and mirror those that it is trying to serve.  The easiest and most authentic way to do this is have a diverse mix of gender, age, ethnicity and socio-economic status within their company. 

The conversations, the culture and the ethos of the company will be and is reflected by the people that work for it, they are the ones who drive the company forward and deliver the vision of that company.  If accountancy firms are serving a diverse client base, then it needs to be authentic in its messages and services.

The second element is why diversity and inclusion are absolutely critical to the growth and strategic direction of a business.  It has been the case for far too long that the senior management of any business has been made up of white middle-aged men. These executives of a company were making decisions based on their experiences, their backgrounds and their understanding.  

This has a fundamental flaw in the decision-making process in that the assumptions being made were by like-minded people and as such decisions being made might not be reflective of reality but only of perceptions.  

For any accountancy firm, introducing a diverse group of individuals into the conversation means different viewpoints, different ideas and different experiences will be shared in order to come to a more informed decision.  We are in an age where historical precedent is not necessarily a guide to future directions and what is integral is thoughts and ideas from across the spectrum of viewpoints so that critical decisions are made from a place of broad knowledge.

As a tangential point to this but one that is often overlooked is that when we talk about diversity being critical to the business decisions, what is often overlooked, especially in larger companies is the siloed nature of decision making.  Different departments will make decisions in isolation of other parts of the business as they are the ‘experts’ in their areas.  

But the decisions being made will be from the minds of likeminded people from the same department  and there is a definite case that to bring in other people from different departments, fresh viewpoints and ideas might be made which would not otherwise have been considered.  The other side benefit to this is that the impact assessment of any decision will be far more rigorous as it will factor in cross-department impacts.

International Women’s Day on 8 March is a day to reflect and challenge our stereotypes and perceptions and celebrate achievements.  This alongside other days throughout the year where we acknowledge the re-balance of society to a more inclusive place is something that should be celebrated as society embraces its failings.  It needs to be acknowledged that we are still on the start of the journey and there is a long way to go but not being afraid to acknowledge the benefits for business from a strategic approach as much as an emotional one will continue the progress that has been made.

Nick Gold, MD and founder of Speakers Corner

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