By Gary Hunt, CAE, OSCPA director of content strategy & media
Many people began the COVID-19 pandemic by marking time: days, weeks and months in government- or self-imposed lockdown.
2021 has been the year of anniversaries: One year since the public became aware of the disease; one year since businesses, workplaces and schools closed their doors to the pre-pandemic way of doing things.
Like many workers, Margaret Finley CPEC, CDP, OSCPA’s diversity, equity & inclusion strategist, realized one day she had spent more time interacting with teammates through a screen than she had been able to do in person. Finley began working at The Ohio Society of CPAs in November 2019, so she’d hardly gotten her bearings in her new job when the pandemic lockdowns began a few months later.
“It felt like a sudden whirlwind came through,” she said. “I was just getting acclimated to my role. We were working on the Crossing Bridges conference we wanted to have as a way to really kick our work off across our membership… Then we had to pivot; we had to think about how to be creative and continue to work.”
May 25 marks the anniversary of another seismic event in America: the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was an event that – along with several others – jolted the public into an awareness of racial injustice, and it prompted many organizations and businesses to do something about it.
Finley called it “a turning point.”
“It was a situation where people became very aware around the issue of racism and social justice and inequality,” she said. “That brought home the realization for so many people, companies and organizations... It was horrendous for so many people – and it highlighted the need to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion now.”
The events prompted OSCPA to make a three-part commitment to end racism and help create a business environment that offers equal opportunity to all. Society President & CEO Scott Wiley, CAE, announced the plan, which consists of CEO leadership, advancing public policy, and organizational commitment – including a $100,000 pledge for initiatives.
“Our board and leadership care deeply about these problems, and they’re demonstrating that through this commitment of time, money and exerting our influence,” Wiley said. “We have laid the groundwork for action for years, and now it’s time to get results.”
Wiley pointed out the Society has been invested in making the profession more diverse for 25 years through various programs such as the Accounting Careers Awareness Program (ACAP-Ohio). Going into 2020 the society was advancing that work, most notably in the Crossing Bridges initiative.
“Before the George Floyd situation happened, we were struggling to get members and companies and firms involved in that work,” Finley said. “When that happened, we started getting calls from people who wanted to get involved. We saw participation in our sessions start to increase.”
The Crossing Bridges initiative provides information and a format for conversations on building a diverse, inviting and vibrant workplace culture. Finley said leaders can take the next important step by assessing the current state of their organizations.
“That can be done through what we’re calling a culture and inclusion assessment,” she said. “Leaders need to take the time to hear the voice of each individual in the by asking a series of questions about culture and inclusion and how they’re feeling.
“Data is our best friend when it comes to this subject,” she said. “It’s tells us the story of where we are and the opportunities that we have ahead. Take that information and look very closely at the story it is telling you and coming up with a plan of action to address it.”
That takes time.
“There should be no pressure to get there in the next couple of months, because I can tell you that will not happen,” Finley said. “It takes time and intentional effort.”
OSCPA can help. To get started, contact Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategist Margaret Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pandemic, racial justice and mental health
So, how are YOU doing?
During tumultuous times – and the past year has certainly been that – everyone should take time to assess their own mental state, said OSCPA’s Margaret Finley, who is also a Certified Personal and Executive Coach.
“It has been a lot to take in,” Finley said. “George Floyd was not the first black man to be killed. But for many people, this brought back so many memories that this has been going on for years and years and years.
“Between that and the pandemic it has been almost overwhelming.”
For her, that starts with maintaining a sense of optimism.
“I have to keep myself optimistic about the work,” she said. “One of the things I try to do is be thoughtful, and to take the time to mediate.”
When it comes to relationships, allow others the safety and space to feel what they feel – and to express those feelings.
“We have to be able to articulate where we are and articulate what we’re feeling,” Finley said. “Mentally we have to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel and work our way through the process.”
Finally, if you have any doubt about your ability to handle what life is giving you, ask for help.
“You are not in this life alone,” she said. “Relationships are everything, and we all need them to survive. And when it comes to your mental health, you owe it to yourself to pick up the phone and let someone know when you need help… Some people will judge you: that’s their problem, not yours.”