How we talk about diversity in the workplace

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Abby Draper

Margaret Finley, OSCPA diversity + inclusion strategist and consultant, was recently asked by a LinkedIn editor to discuss how we can change the way we talk about diversity at work. Here are her responses.

As a leader in diversity and inclusion, do we need to change the way we talk about “diversity” at work? 

From my perspective, diversity and inclusion (D+I) doesn't have to be as complicated as it is made to be. Ultimately, it’s about embracing the fundamental belief that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally. I believe we have a responsibility to create a work environment that is open to candid conversation in a space that is safe and nonjudgmental. 

Woman dressed professionally and smiling for the camera.

D+I has long been recognized as the “right thing to do,” but has not always been viewed as a business imperative beyond the war for talent that all Ohio businesses face. Successful businesses understand that in a society where demographics are rapidly shifting, they need to be more relevant and sensitive to the needs of the employees and customers they serve today and hope to serve in the future. That mindset shift is bringing greater awareness for the benefits of building a business culture that is more diverse and welcoming at every level.

Here at The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA), we are committed to dedicating leadership, time and resources to create an inclusive culture and a place where associates feel a sense of belonging. Along the way, we hope to be a diversity + inclusion influencer and resource to other Ohio businesses, especially those that value diversity + inclusion, but are not yet engaged in specific, actionable strategic steps.

We are measuring our progress as we move toward intended outcomes, remaining open-minded and flexible as we build relationships and work with members and others to move this strategy from vision to reality.

How do you think corporate leadership needs to change to make our workplaces truly inclusive?

The journey we have taken at OSCPA is instructive. Our Executive Board at The Ohio Society approved plans in November 2016 to frame an organizational D+I strategy that would extend OSCPA’s own diversity acumen and provide support to member organizations with the same goal. This was not the first time the organization has demonstrated a commitment to D+I, but it represented the largest initiative to date in scope and scale. For guidance, OSCPA engaged the American Society of Association Executives, (ASAE) which had formed a Diversity + Inclusion Task Force comprised of board, staff and volunteer leaders from the CPA profession.

Our D+I Task Force members were selected based on the need to bring a broad range of perspectives, professional experiences, organizational cultures and D+I expertise together to address this critical topic. 

Before convening the task force, OSCPA engaged an independent audit of its current diversity + inclusion practices. Using a credible business Inclusion Index Tool – a model in the association community – OSCPA evaluated its progress and identified gaps in important D+I competencies which set the stage for opportunities identified by the task force and on behalf of the CPA profession.

The task force meets regularly to identify challenges in the profession related to diversity + inclusion, frame goals and identify strategic possibilities for advancing D+I within the Ohio Society’s culture and in Ohio’s CPA profession. The group then synthesized dozens of ideas that frame OSCPA’s diversity + inclusion commitment statement and multi-year strategic plan.

As a result of these efforts, we expect to become Ohio’s leader in diversity and inclusion strategy across the accounting profession. The heart of that effort – and the way any organization can start – is by building relationships through those candid, safe conversations.

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