Diversity: What accountancy can learn from different sectors

From encouraging greater innovation and creativity to increasing team productivity and profit margins, cultivating a diverse workforce brings a wealth of benefits to a company and its employees. This topic and these notions have seen much discussion over the last few months, as the world’s attention has focused on racism and the biases BAME people encounter in every facet of life.

In an era of digitalisation and globilisation, diversity and inclusion in the workplace also plays a vital role in building a company’s brand and improving its ability to hire and retain talent. For many of today’s job seekers, being part of a socially and culturally diverse work environment is a non-negotiable. In a recent survey by Hays, 58% of professionals said they look for an organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies when researching a potential new employer. This was particularly important for younger professionals, with 65% of those aged 25 and under saying that this is a top priority for them.

The most diverse and inclusive sectors

Earlier this year, Kantar’s Inclusion Index put the health care and education sectors at the top of the list for the most inclusive industries worldwide, while the tech industry was found to be the least inclusive. Professional services, which includes those working in the legal and accounting sectors, came in third place.

Closer to home, our own survey highlighted a perceived lack of diversity within the accountancy industry – suggesting that there’s still some way to go. Of the 251 chartered accountants surveyed, 2 fifths said that they believe employees from disadvantaged backgrounds were unable to progress as well as those from more affluent circumstances. At the same time, almost half of the respondents agreed that the accountancy sector is more suited for those educated to degree level, and 1 in 3 believe nepotism will always trump work ethic.

With so many employees looking for a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion from their employer, it’s important for accountancy professionals to find out what other businesses are doing to set themselves apart. Not only is this good practice for business owners and senior staff members, but for job applicants, arming yourself with the right information can put you in a good position to ask the right questions when approaching a potential employer.

With the current climate in mind, here are a few examples of what leading businesses have done internally to progress towards creating equal opportunities across the different aspects of diversity.

Gender balance – Goldman Sachs

Under its new chief executive David Solomon, Goldman Sachs has set a new benchmark for gender equality in the financial sector by promoting 29% of their female employees to senior level – equivalent to 134 of the 465 bankers who received the promotion. This is a welcome step for women in finance, as it has been found that as career level rises female representation declines significantly.

This is evident in the number of women in the industry employed at executive level, which currently stands at 15%, despite women making up 46% of the workforce.

For accounting, the situation is just as troubling. A 2016 report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) surveyed female accountants to find out more about their perceptions of the profession, and discovered that over half (57%) admitted to seeing accountancy as a male-dominated field.

If the industry wants to attract and retain the best talent, employers need to take active measures to encourage more women to apply for senior positions. Companies who work to increase the gender balance in the upper quartiles can expect to benefit from improved financial performance, reduced risk, more challenging and robust decision making and an increase in the attraction to a wider talent pool.

Age diversity – Coca-Cola and Mastercard

This year, a study by CV-library found that 17.3% of professionals admit to facing age discrimination in the workplace. Almost half (49.4%) said this was because they were too old, while 45.3% said they’ve also been judged for being too young.

Age discrimination is a serious issue in any workplace and needs to be carefully addressed by employers before it starts to damage a company’s culture and recruitment. Embracing age diversity has a large number of benefits for all companies, not least because it fosters a much wider range of skills within the team.

In 2013, Coca-Cola introduced ‘Millennial Voices’ – a group of employees aged between 25 and 35, that serves as a change agent for the company and a hub for fresh thinking. Over the last 6 years, the group has helped shape the business by kickstarting advanced technology pilots, recycling initiatives, competitive employee benefits packages and flexible work policies.

By creating an entrepreneurial mentality throughout the company, Coca-Cola has found a way to motivate and empower its current employees, while simultaneously making itself more attractive to young job seekers. As workplace demographics continue to shift, this is something all companies will need to take seriously to ensure they’re meeting the needs of a changing workforce.

At the same time, companies need to ensure they don’t isolate older employees, and therefore need to provide the training and support necessary to keep them engaged and motivated. To this end, Mastercard has introduced a scheme which encourages older people in the workforce to get more involved with the social media aspect of their company.

Named ‘YoPros BRG’ (Young Professionals Business Resource Group), the initiative provides social media reverse mentoring with 1-1 support. Not only is mastering social media an important skill for most business strategies today, but it also makes older generation workers feel part of a modern business.

For the accountancy industry, the mean age across all UK membership bodies in 2017 was 46, slightly above the national equivalent across the UK workforce as a whole (41). However, as more and more millennial and Gen Z workers enter the industry, establishing a working environment that caters to a multi-generational workforce should be top of the agenda for all accountancy firms.

LGBTQ equality – Marriott International

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently released its 2019 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) employees.

Marriott International was placed among the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality”, achieving a 100% score. To earn a perfect score, companies need to meet certain criteria, including ensuring full spousal and partner health care coverage parity and affirming coverage for transition-related care. Marriott has a long legacy of support for the LGBTQ community, offering benefits for same-sex partners since the 1990s and publicly opposing the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Many of the top accountancy firms already have LGBT support networks in place, and Stonewall has commended many for the work they’ree doing for the LGBT community. This year Stonewall named KPMG as number 51 in its list of top 100 employers in 2019. However, in ICAEW’s research report on Diversity and the accountancy profession, interviewees stated that they are far more likely to hear diversity being talked about than they are to actually see any practical changes in the workplace.

This suggests that companies need to be more transparent about the work they are doing to support their employees to avoid the perception that they are merely paying lip service.

The importance of sharing best practice

These are just a few examples of the many great initiatives out there that aim to promote and safeguard diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for any one company, however by empowering themselves through information and sharing best practice across multiple sectors, accountancy firms and professionals can begin to plot the necessary steps that will allow them to create a dynamic and highly-functional workforce where everybody feels welcome.

Contributed by CABA

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