Ep. 193: Diversifying Global Accounting Talent: Actionable Solutions for Progress

In this special edition of Count Me In, we dive into trailblazing new DE&I research conducted in partnership by The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), and The California Society of CPAs (CalCPA). The new report, Diversifying Global Accounting Talent: Actionable Solutions for Progress, details more than 70 practices organizations can use to improve inclusivity and diversity among their workforces. Jeff Thomson, President and CEO of IMA is joined by Kevin Dancey, CEO of IFAC and Denise LeDuc Froemming, President and CEO of CalCPA to discuss the findings and why more than 60 professional accountancy organizations from around the world have signed on to the report as DE&I Advocates.
Read the report Diversifying Global Accounting Talent: Actionable Solutions for Progress 

Full Episode Transcript:
Adam: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, the podcast that explores the world of business from the management accountant's perspective. Today, we have a special edition as we take a closer look at the groundbreaking new DE&I solutions report produced in partnership by IMA, the International Federation of Accountants, or IFAC, and the California society of CPAs. The report, entitled Diversifying Global Accounting Talent: Actionable Solutions for Progress is now available on the IMA website. Just follow the link in the show notes. Here now to discuss the findings and why this report represents one, if not the largest collective of DE&I initiatives in the history of global accounting profession is Jeff Thomson, the president and CEO of IMA, Kevin Dancey, CEO of IFAC, and Denise LeDuc Froemming, president and CEO of CalCPA. Let's get started.
 
Jeff: (01:03)
Well, thank you so much, Kevin and Denise for joining this very, very important podcast. We're all committed to increasing the relevance and influence of our great profession and talent pipeline and talent retention, and certainly diversity, equity, and inclusion is an important part of that equation. I'm very, very proud and honored to have partnered with both IFAC and Cal state side of CPAs in this groundbreaking DE&I research our organizations have collaborated on over the past bunch of months. I believe that the breadth and depth of topics covered and really getting close to the issues at hand is arguably unsurpassed by any other study out there, but it's not a competition, it's about improving the profession and its its relevance and an age of disruption and uncertainty. You know, there were some hard truths, hard data points that came out of the surveys that we did both in the US and around the world, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
 
Jeff: (02:07)
Speaking about inequity, for example, fewer than 60% of the 8,000 sampled believe the profession is equitable or inclusive, that's a startling number. And so it very much is a call to action to partner together, to understand how we can create diverse pipelines, how we can create an incredibly diverse and inclusive profession because of an overarching perspective that improves the attractiveness of the profession to all types of individuals and our relevance and influence going forward is absolutely paramount. Look, we can't touch on every point in the research that came up in this particular podcast, but would love to hear your reactions. For example, to the more than 70 specific actionable practices recommended in the report. These over 70 actionable practices have been mapped back to the 17 UN sustainable goals, sustainability goals for 2030, for example, goals on quality education, gender equality, and reducing inequality.
 
Jeff: (03:14)
So let's talk about some of the findings and I need to be quiet and listen and learn. So according to the research, there is greater diversity across the broader profession than in leadership positions. In a comparison of female respondents, job titles, across all regions, to those of male respondents with similar education levels and experience, it was revealed that male respondents are holding more senior positions than in females. And that typically also extends to other diverse groups. Second, the research points to women and members of other diverse demographic groups in each region believing there is some level of inequitable treatment and exclusive behaviors that impacted career decisions and prompted some actually about 12% to actually leave our great profession. So starting with Denise as a leader in our profession, what is your reaction to the findings in this area of gender and other forms and inequities, inequalities, and similar challenges you're facing in a very diverse state of California. Denise?
 
Denise: (04:28)
Well, thank you first. Thank you, Jeff, for having me on the podcast today really appreciate being here and also thank you for just, we really appreciate partnering with IFAC and IMA on the survey. It's very important as you said, and there's a lot of great actionable items, which I was so happy to see within the survey, cuz it gives others a pathway to move forward. So that's important. You know, in regards to gender parity, I think COVID, we could all probably agree that it didn't really help on the advancement and the momentum that we had in 2019 on with women within the workforce. A lot of women left to take care of their families, no judgment there it's just what happened. It's the reality. Often I think women and diverse populations are underutilized within the profession. They aren't provided the opportunities to stand up and to learn new skills or competencies.
 
Denise: (05:24)
So I did talk to Dr. Mithu Dey from Howard University. And she had said too, that there's research out there. And she mostly looks at the black accountants and their experience, but she said advancement and retention challenges are really the result of them not obtaining assignments that help them develop. And they don't have the social networks a lot of times to provide that informal career advancement. And I think we could all agree. I know myself that I've benefited from others helping me to move ahead, giving me opportunities. And if you don't have that, that's definitely a gap. And it also provides you with the thought that maybe you wanna leave the profession because you don't have the network and you don't feel that sense of belonging or welcomed environment within maybe the organization that you're in. And there's a lot of statistics out there that really promote the fact that there is not equitable treatment all the time.
 
Denise: (06:24)
So a lot of times we say to see me is to be me. And I think, you know, Heather has said that at times as well, and it's really having that awareness and acknowledgement that there is a gap within the profession and understanding that gap. So you have to know where you're at to know where you need to go a lot of times. So it's, it's on the acknowledgement and awareness that the profession does have a gap. And then also the belief that there is an untapped resource out there and that will provide the leadership and the innovation to move the organization forward. And also having that as a priority within the organization and the tone at the top, making sure that it is within the fabric of the organization to have DE&I at the forefront and have programs that support that. So essentially having it hardwired within the organization.
 
Jeff: (07:17)
Right. Thank you, Denise so much. And you know, before I turn it over to Kevin, I think three of us would probably agree very, very passionately that we've got a great profession. We need to do a better job at telling the story of the professions, making a difference in society. But we also have to create a better story and to see it is very powerful. Kevin, what's your thoughts on the question of gender parity and retention or similar challenges for other diverse groups from an IFAC perspective, you get to see the world actually, which is pretty incredible.
 
Kevin: (07:51)
Thanks, Jeff. And thanks for having me here today as well. I think Denise has covered a lot of the points quite well, but it's very clear that in terms of advancement and retention we really have work to do as a profession. I think it's showing in the data from the four regional studies, you know, more than 60% of female respondents as well as members of diverse demographic groups explored in each regional study report personally experiencing inequitable or exclusive treatment in the accounting profession that they have perceived to be rooted in biased against people like them. Also 12% of women have also indicated that these inequitable and exclusive experiences have contributed to their decision to leave the profession altogether. So these numbers are upsetting but reinforced that we must do more as a profession to ensure a comfortable, inclusive work environment. But I think, you know, one of the great things about that report is that now not only do we have some really good data to base our risk responses on going forward, but that the report really tries to get to pragmatic solutions that the profession can adopt. And I know throughout this podcast, we will delve into some of those as well.
 
Jeff: (09:12)
Great. Kevin, thank you for those thoughts. By the way, just going back to, if we're allowed to go back on this podcast, but going back to something Denise said that I think you also alluded to is, you know, it does seem that disruptive events, whether it's the pandemic or other disruptions that we've all seen and felt does seem to disproportionately impact females, lower income caregivers, et cetera, et cetera. So we've gotta be very, very careful that as we plan for the future and make some bold steps forward, we take into account that things are probably gonna get more challenging rather than less. So thank you for that. So we've alluded to the fact that in this groundbreaking research there were well over 70 actionable practices that were put together through benchmarking through think tanks and through other means as we indicated earlier, they are mapped back to the 17 UN sustainable goals for 2030.
 
Jeff: (10:18)
And there's many examples for instance, in attracting groups to the accounting profession. There's the thoughts of more communications and outreach to underrepresented groups. Are we being creative and innovative and comprehensive in our outreach to bringing in new talent into our organizations, things like anonymizing - am I saying that - anonymizing resumes prior to having them received during the recruitment process to minimize the effect of bias and these 70 or so ideas or initiatives or practices are grouped into two categories in the report, if you recall on the there's the attracting talent, and then there's also retaining and developing or developing and retaining. Another example is in terms of attracting talent developed partnerships with primary schools and local organizations that demystify accounting roles to youth. So even starting earlier, right in the bid to tell the story of this great profession. So Kevin start with you, what's your take on the 70 practices? How do you prioritize them? How do you get going? What are some things perhaps IFAC has done either on the attract and or retain developed side?
 
Kevin: (11:45)
Thanks, Jeff. You know, while it appears as an easy to implement practice I don't think we should get ourselves and it will be quick or easy for that matter. Cuz I think removing unconscious bias from decision making really is a lifelong learning process. And we need to work on undoing, frankly, generations of systematic bias. You know, with respect to attracting talent, one de facto place to start which you alluded to is by utilizing software to remove names from resumes or gender specific language from job postings, because doing so puts the focus on the requirements of the job and the professional capabilities of the person without regard for demographic characteristics. So that's one example. I think another area that will be important for us to focus on is how we are encouraging young people to enter that profession to begin with.
 
Kevin: (12:40)
And I think this gets back to the point you alluded to earlier in terms of getting our story out there and getting our story out there in the right way. If we don't have good diversity, you know, right now at that point, why not, you know, for people entering the profession and are the job postings off putting towards, you know, specific demographic groups? I think these are the questions we need to explore because ultimately our work starts with marketing the profession as a viable and desirable career path to all. And I think, you know, with all the work going on in the world today around sustainability reporting and ESG reporting, et cetera, I really think we can position this profession as one with a real sense of purpose going forward, which I think will be attractive to the next generation. So I think it's really important to weave that into our story going forward in terms of the sense of purpose that an individual can have and also how that will lead to a viable and desirable career path, kind of another effective place to start could be by providing internship programs to undergraduate students.
 
Kevin: (13:50)
We've done this the last couple of years at IFAC and one of our interns from last year's summer program is now working for PWC. So again, just looking at different new ways in terms of engaging young people with our profession going forward. I think there are options there for to explore.
 
Jeff: (14:11)
Great, great thoughts, Kevin, and as a proud member of IFAC, I wanna thank you and IFAC for its proactive statements and initiatives working with the IFS foundation, others to make ESG environment, social governance and integral part of our profession, where we can make a difference in terms of unbiased results and results with a reasonable level of insurance. It's all about making a difference and being a purpose driven organization. If we do that well, we will attract a whole new set of inspired students not to mention the move toward data analytics. So Denise, going back to you know, the question at hand, I know in some media interviews yourself and Heather on your team have done a really nice job at articulating some of what you're implementing at Cal state side of CPAs, but what is your thoughts as well on the 70 plus actionable practices and how organizations can get going get started and keep it moving.
 
Denise: (15:16)
Mm-hmm, I do agree. I mean, with both of you that having that 70 actionable practices provides a starting point, a great starting point for anyone. It's kind of a menu in which you can choose where you're at and the next step that you wanna move forward on. So it allows you to customize in a way, a pathway or a roadmap forward. So I think that's helpful cuz everyone's in a different spot and they need to be able to see and have that pathway of how others have implemented. I think a good starting point first is to really have a committee or a group that can be that village or that team to help promote, nurture and support a program. Because without that, you are just going in many different directions, a lot of time and you don't have a focus pathway forward.
 
Denise: (16:02)
So I think that's a really good beginning point for anyone and to make sure that you have the members and you have buy in from various groups and stakeholders, cuz that helps you move forward in a more deliberate and intentional way. I would say also to have awareness and look at, do an audit, to see where you're at truly, what are, what position are you in currently? Cuz then you can know, like I said before, where you need to go and what you need to put into place and share the plan with others, have that tone at the top, make sure there is buy-in by others because without that, it's really difficult to move forward. And I would agree with what both you and Kevin said on the story. We have to be able to tell a compelling story that resonates with different audiences. So it isn't always the same message, but it has an element of a message that is really at the heart of what others are looking for because every different diverse group wants something different.
 
Denise: (17:01)
We hear that a lot of individuals that want to come into accounting want that are attracted to the entrepreneurship that is available. So we have to be able to tell the story in different ways that resonate with different audiences. And I would say it's, it is a profession I love, I wear my I love CPAs button, but it is my profession. So it's important to me that it is sustainable going forward. And I think we're poised to really comment on and be involved in many of the new initiatives that are out there, ESG being one of them.
 
Jeff: (17:32)
Great. Great. Thank you. And Denise, while we're on a bit of a roll here, so, you know, we've spent a bit of time on the attracting talent and telling the story and making the story even better. Let's talk a little bit more about the retaining and promoting diverse talent for the longer term outcome of creating a sense of belonging, culture of belonging. You know, a quote I read on some of the research on hybrid work said belonging is all about leadership. It's not about location, right? Which we're all dealing with. I'm sure some of the recommendations in the report on the retain and promote side includes offering onsite daycare, establishing or expanding parental leave, collecting demographic data to assess equity Kevin's point about let's use data science to help in our recruiting efforts and regularly engaging with staff or members in a association, for example to assess employee sentiments toward DNI, DE&I, why are we even talking about it? Is that for us to be doing well? How is that an integral part of the profession? So what are your thoughts on some of these actions or, or thoughts initiatives in the area of promoting and retaining and how can we lead by example?
 
Denise: (18:48)
I would say just to your point, facilitating that inclusive work culture and that sense of belonging is extremely important for everyone. And it isn't just, as you said, within the confines of the physical office space, but it is feeling that you're valued within that organization and having the DE&I programs that thrive in our avenues to really speak up and for you to be yourself at work, I've heard so many times is extremely important to everyone within the organization and to have that support with the tone at the top and having leaders that support kind of where you're going and understand really what you value within the organization and where you need to go professionally and having mentors. I think mentors are really important within an organization and sponsors so that you feel there is a pathway for you to move forward.
 
Denise: (19:45)
And I hear that with the members as well, having that mentor so that they know the pathway that is available to them, cuz it's difficult sometimes to move forward and to know where to go and having someone that's in your corner that can provide the roadmap is extremely helpful. And I think a statistic that I've heard is that 70% of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups do not have equitable access to sponsors or mentors. And that's extremely important. Because we all need that support within the organization to help us move forward in our career. And without that, you just don't really know a lot of times where to go next and what that next step is.
 
Jeff: (20:27)
That's great. And Kevin alluded to the importance of internship programs, but mentoring programs, mutual coaching programs we have to dig deeper and more innovatively. So great. Thank you so much, Denise, shifting gears a little bit, I'm sure we'd all agree that one of the cornerstones or table stakes for our profession is commitment to professional ethics. The international ethics standards board for accounting takes this very, very seriously. Kevin, the general question is what is the relationship between DE&I and ethics and even ethics codes, for example, should there be direct or indirect reference to DE&I in ethics codes is probably the broader question for consideration.
 
Kevin: (21:16)
Thanks Jeff. Great question. I think I'd start by saying inherently ethics and DE&I are linked together. As accountants, we have a responsibility to uphold the highest standard of ethics and make fair decisions free from bias. So that's kind of a fundamental principle 101. And I think in the report, it's outlined that compliance along with the IESBA code of ethics principles can help support the effectiveness of DE&I programs. Now while the IESBA code does not expressly address DE&I it's overarching requirements note the importance of having ethical values that align internal organizational cultures to the principles of ethics in the code and compliance with the codes, principles of ethics can help support the effectiveness of DE&I programs, you know, for example compliance with integrity involves fair dealing. Fair dealing includes respecting and promoting values of DE&I. Also compliance with the principle of professional behavior lead a professional accountant to avoid being associated with discriminatory or biased practices that are not aligned with fundamental tenants of DE&I, and consequently, the organization's DE&I related programs and policies. The code also imposes our responsibility for professional accounts to take action if they become aware of or suspect non-compliance with laws and regulations, which would include DE&I related laws and regulations. So there's quite a bit of connectivity and alignment between DE&I and ethics for professional accountants.
 
Jeff: (23:00)
Thank you, Kevin so much for those thoughts on the fact that DE&I, and sound ethics are linked and joined at the Hep as mutual enablers. We already talked about the fact that as we evolve into ESG: environmental, social and governance aspects, that there too a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment goes hand in hand. So the S, the social aspect of ESG talks about human capital and board diversity, and so very, very, very important for professional and accountants and business to play a leading role. So, as we wrap up, as we know, more than 60 professional accountancy organizations around the globe joined us as we call DE&I advocates committing their organizations to collaborative action for change. This is a grand opportunity to address and mitigate the risk and seize opportunity to grow and expand the diversity, relevance, and influence of our great profession. So, given the magnitude of this and the opportunity here, start with Denise, what closing thoughts would you give to kind of capture the path forward?
 
Denise: (24:14)
I would say first, just have conversations. So you understand where you're at and you have the awareness that you need, and then take action, take a step forward, lean in and do something. Because a lot of times there's a lot of conversation and we need to really take action. So I would urge anyone who signed on our CalCPA members to take immediate action and utilize those 70 action steps, select one, reach out there's organizations that are noted on there, reach out to an organization and ask for help because everyone will help and assist. And they're more than willing to give you a hand up. So I would say, have a conversation, take an action and enlist those leaders and stakeholders that you feel could help you move forward. It's extremely important. And just, we're so happy that we had the 60 that signed on cuz it shows the interest and the commitment to DE&I, and moving forward.
 
Jeff: (25:12)
Great. Thank you so much, Denise and a hundred percent agree having conversations and many of them with multiple stakeholders critically important. Kevin, what are your closing words of inspiration here? Put you on the spot.
 
Kevin: (25:27)
I think the important next step, Jeff, is to begin to take new actions as a result of what we've learned and the report generated an inventory of more than 70 actionable DE&I practices each map to relevant UN SDGs, which millions of accountants can implement. And as you said earlier, the actionable DE&I practices fall into one of two overarching categories that represent necessary strategic objectives for the accountancy professions, DE&I efforts, the first was attracting diverse talent and the second was retaining and promoting that diverse talent, effective solutions are needed to increase representation at all. Career levels, effectively measure DE&I progress and at coordinated, widespread improvement across the profession. Bottom line, Jeff, is that the time is now to affect change and unite the profession in a collaborative approach to solving these challenges.
 
Jeff: (26:21)
Great. Thank you so much, Kevin and IFAC, and Denise and CalCPAs. It's been a privilege speaking with you today. I can't tell you how proud I am personally, and on behalf of IMA for partnering with you on this groundbreaking and actionable research. Look, we all want a fair and equitable workplace where people feel valued and belong, a sense of belonging and it's talent that's gonna move this profession forward more than anything else. And you know, when you think about it nothing less than the future relevance and influence of our great profession is at stake. So let's approach this challenge as Kevin and Denise have said with a sense of urgency, a sense of pride, and a sense of inspiration.
 
Outro: (27:07)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

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