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Diversity and Inclusion: Time to Break Barriers

As seen in Crain's New York Business

While the subject of diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been around for several decades, there was a monumental stir in 2020. That unpredictable, unprecedented, and eye-opening year resulted in a long overdue wake-up call for organizations to begin examining more closely their D&I programs.

Improving diversity in the workplace is more important today than ever before. When deciding who they want to do business with, consumers are looking for companies that have demonstrated a commitment to D&I. Employees are searching for organizations with progressive leaders focused on transformation.

Companies need to evolve or they jeopardize a diminished market share and profitability as a result of lost talent and potential candidates. Creating an organization that holds itself accountable for D&I requires a commitment from the top. It begins with a leadership team that is laser-focused on its D&I initiatives and recognizes the need for its workforce, the resource that it will deploy to serve customers, to be diverse and to experience a culture of inclusion.

Research has proved that feeling out of place or excluded at work often results in disengagement and lower productivity. A study by the software company Oracle, “Addressing Diversity and Inclusion: Going Beyond the Benchmark,” found that while senior leaders predicted that “98% of their employees felt included at work, in reality only 80% of employees reported feeling included.” Likewise, “68% of respondent leaders said they believe they create an inclusive work environment, but only 36% of those employees agreed.”

D&I leaders consistently affirm that inclusion is fundamental to the success of their organizations. A more diverse workforce drives innovation, particularly for incoming generations that are seeking an innovative work experience. D&I also improves the overall performance of the business by enabling employees to better empathize with consumers from diverse backgrounds. Having a workforce that is representative of the company’s clients or customers yields a stronger connection between the people that work for the organization and the customers or clients they are serving.

Organizations have used a variety of strategies to implement D&I programs. Many have brought on one or more full-time diversity experts (such as a chief diversity-and-inclusion officer) to work within the organization.

The significance of the D&I officer’s role has grown in the past several years. Increasing the officer’s role can often be a first step toward shaping a culture in which D&I is entrenched throughout the employee experience. Using data about the rapidly changing demographics and varying needs of employees, the D&I officers can help create an atmosphere in which everyone feels welcome and valued.

To effect meaningful change, the D&I officer must report directly to the CEO and head of human resources. Doing so will enable the D&I officer to guide key decision-makers as they form a strategic plan to implement and monitor D&I practices.

As more companies step up their D&I efforts and start looking outward to find senior D&I experience, finding an experienced D&I officer is becoming more challenging. An effective D&I officer does not necessarily need a background in human resources; potential candidates for implementing and driving D&I initiatives include individuals with a proven history of championing D&I or those skilled in influencing change, forming strategies, understanding metrics, and producing results.

Another way that organizations have worked to implement an evolutionary D&I program is by taking steps to address the perception gap between how companies and leadership think they are doing versus how employees actually feel. A key component of this evolution involves transparency into metrics as well as career development opportunities for everyone in the workforce. Leaders must examine metrics related to salaries and to the recruitment and retention rates of marginalized groups, then empower managers by providing them with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be inclusive when hiring and developing staff.

Companies can also support diversity and inclusion efforts by integrating certain workplace offerings. Creating a benefits package that is unique to the company and reflects its values helps to attract and retain the right people. Benefits such as flexible work arrangements, floating holidays, sufficient paid time off, parental leave policies and programs that support human connectivity improve inclusion, growth and trust, and lead to a more satisfied and loyal workforce.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to D&I, successful D&I executives, officers and HR leaders consistently assert one common theme: The buy-in, support, and engagement of company leadership are vital for a successful D&I program. Effective CEOs and executive leadership teams that are engaged in D&I efforts must meet regularly to review and track the D&I program’s performance.

When a board or leadership team compares its D&I performance to the goals outlined for the D&I program, the organization sees results. In contrast, when a board does not track performance, D&I efforts typically fall to the bottom of the organization’s priority list.

Soliciting feedback from employees sends the message that the company wants to make positive change. Whether the organization uses a survey, online tool, forum, or one-on-one meetings with top executives, the expectation of employees is that leadership is ready to take action. When it comes to attracting top talent, most job seekers are looking to work for an employer that demonstrates a strong commitment to D&I.

There has always been an ethical purpose for employing and serving a diverse group of people and making sure that their contributions are valued. The business case for creating a diverse and inclusive environment is now stronger than ever. Developing a more balanced workforce and ensuring the organization’s culture is inclusive will build a brand’s reputation as a good employer, one that values people. Customers favor brands and companies that care about helping others.

By ensuring that diversity and inclusion are embedded throughout the organization, the business creates an environment in which employees of all backgrounds are aligned toward the common goal of making sure the company is successful.

Citrin Cooperman has recognized the importance of diversity since it opened its doors in 1979. For more than 40 years, our firm has benefited from a richness of ideas and experiences as a result of the diverse backgrounds of our people. Our company culture has been enhanced by welcoming and celebrating all backgrounds. We acknowledge that we must continuously reexamine our D&I efforts to remain a leading firm within the accounting industry.

At Citrin Cooperman, diversity has never been about checking a box; it has always been about providing the highest quality of service to our clients by bringing to them an innovative team of dedicated professionals.

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