insight magazine

Ethics Engaged | Fall 2020

An Ethical Approach to Diversity and Inclusion

Meaningful diversity and inclusion initiatives should be a foundational part of your organization’s ethics—and not just because the world is demanding action.
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner Head of Finance, International Legal Technology Association


Diversity and inclusion initiatives should be a core component of an organization’s ethical framework. While it is important to speak out about diversity and inclusion, your organization should also be demonstrating that it cares and is focusing on policies, initiatives, and training to improve its diversity practices. Action is the best way to show that your organization and its people truly care.

As society is pleading for more diversity and inclusion in organizations, the business case for diversity is strengthening. McKinsey recently issued its third report in a series studying the business case for diversity: “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters.” Their research shows that companies who have achieved more diversity are more likely than ever to outperform their competitors financially.

Now is an excellent time to demonstrate your dedication to these values. Here are three actionable steps you can take to improve diversity and inclusion within your organization now:

Open the Discussion

Talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion is a good first step in developing a more robust plan and creating accountability. Your organization should publish a statement making clear its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Prioritize diversity and inclusion at the senior management level and discuss diversity and inclusion initiatives in leadership and staff meetings. This approach shows you take the topic seriously and opens the floor to discussions on how the organization is taking actionable steps, as well as other changes it should make. Leadership should also use meetings to identify what harassment looks like and make it clear people can speak up without fear of retaliation.

Form a task force to facilitate these discussions and identify ways to ensure diversity and inclusion are considered throughout the organization in its decision-making, operations, and personal interactions. Review your code of conduct to determine if discrimination is addressed appropriately. (The AICPA Code of Professional Conduct offers an example, addressing discrimination in sections 1.400.010, 2.400.010, and 3.400.010.)

Set and clearly communicate goals each year for diversity and inclusion, such as recruiting more diversity into the organization and onto the board, holding at least one diversity and inclusion event each quarter, and compiling an annual diversity and inclusion report.

Review Hiring and Termination Patterns

Some of the most meaningful work your organization can undertake to support diversity is ensuring your hiring and termination practices are inclusive. Your organization should keep the population of résumés for each position and documentation of why candidates were not hired. This review will help you determine if your hiring practices are weeding out diverse candidates. On the other hand, keep documentation of why terminations occurred and conduct exit interviews to identify if there are biases or practices that are contributing to diverse workers leaving the company.

Something as simple as a job description can be detrimental to diversity, so write job descriptions with inclusive language. A 2016 study by Textio discovered that phrasing in a job description affected if more women versus men applied; words like, “exhaustive,” “enforcement,” or “fearless” led to more male applicants, while “transparent,” “catalyst,” or “in touch with” led to more female applicants.

A significant component of personal ethics is to work harder on treating people equally and giving more opportunities to groups that may be denied access to opportunities. One way to achieve this goal is to recruit at different schools. Perhaps your organization tends to only recruit from large schools; in this instance, expand your recruiting to smaller schools with similar majors.

Once your organization begins to interview and hire a more diverse pool of candidates, it is important to focus on retention. Mentorship programs, succession planning, skills building, and assessment of satisfaction with work and corporate culture are all good retention practices.

Also, ensure your organization has an anonymous way to provide feedback to management and those with governance. If people are comfortable reporting when something does not look right, the organization has a chance to address it before it perpetuates.

Provide Training

Many organizations need to work to create a diverse and inclusive culture because of unexamined biases they may not know they hold. Harvard’s Project Implicit offers ways to learn about your unconscious bias: Self-awareness helps to correct behavior and encourages individuals to question the thought process behind their decisions. Incorporate broader diversity and inclusion training regularly; you can include more diversity and inclusion topics in your recurring ethics and sexual harassment trainings. Encourage growth as an organization and as individuals.

Effective diversity and inclusion initiatives start with becoming aware of your biases, then taking action to improve your behaviors, the behaviors of your organization, and the behaviors of the profession. Ensure your personal ethics and values align with those of your organization, and if they do not, determine if you can change your organization from the inside or if you should leave for an organization that aligns with your values. Improving diversity and inclusion takes effort and courage, and you can make a meaningful difference.
You can learn more about the Illinois CPA Society’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, including resources for organizations and individuals, here: www.icpas.org/diversity.

Leave a comment