Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, MBA, IMA's Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is an accounting and finance professional with over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry. She has held various leadership positions at prominent nonprofit organizations such as the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in areas such as technical accounting, diversity and inclusion, governance, business development, publication of articles in trade publications and development of technical content for certified examination programs. Linda serves as Vice President for the Alumni Board of Governors at Fairleigh Dickinson University and also represents IMA on a national diversity and inclusion Committee led by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Linda has held senior management positions in industry that involve tasks related to financial reporting, internal and external auditing functions at a Fortune 500 company, Time Warner and a Big Four accounting firm, Ernst Young. For this bonus episode of Count Me In, Linda talks to us from our headquarters in Montvale, NJ about her role at IMA and how she has evolved her position and IMA's commitment to diversity and inclusion. With such leadership experience and knowledge in strategic initiatives, Linda also shares best practices for listeners to bring similar initiatives to their own organizations.
Welcome back for another special bonus episode of Count Me In. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and I'm joined by my cohost Mitch Roshong. Today you will be hearing the second installment of our IMA focused mini series as we highlight IMA's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Fundamental to our core values, IMA is committed to creating and nurturing a diverse and inclusive member community and accounting and finance profession to foster mutual respect between individuals. To further explain this commitment, Mitch sat down with IMA's, director of diversity and inclusion, Linda Devonish Mills. Mitch, what did you take away from the conversation?
IMA embraces a culture of open-mindedness and encourages multiple perspectives to enhance our collaborative solutions, drive innovation, and create and deliver value in all that we do. Linda is the staff member who steers this education and outreach through various initiatives. In our conversation, Linda talks about her role at IMA, emphasizes the importance of D&I and provides implementation strategies for other organizations to adopt diversity and inclusion practices. Let's listen now.
So the director of diversity and inclusion at IMA. Can you please explain to us how your role came about and some of the different initiatives you're working on at IMA?
Sure. So this is a prime example as to how someone can just manage or control their career. Where at the time I was officially a IMA's director of technical accounting activities. And in that role, I just took it upon myself to go beyond that role and just look at the environment of IMA in general where I don't feel uncomfortable saying this since our president and CEO has said that when we attend our annual conferences, for example, of many years ago, it's gotten better over the years. But when I first started my career here in may of 2006, the audience at our conference is much different than it is today. And back then I would say the best way to describe it is that it was a predominantly white males that were coming to our conference. And with me being an accounting professional all throughout my career, I knew that wasn't a good representation of our profession. So during my years, again as director of technical accounting activities, I took it upon myself with the support of the leaders at the time that I was reporting to, to do outreach to students at diverse student populations, you know, at colleges or universities that have diverse student populations, specifically you emphasis with historically black colleges and universities. Because as I started going to those schools the faculty members at those schools were but informed me that they didn't have a problem with attracting students at those schools. The more of the challenge is maintaining them or encouraging them to stay within their major thinking that it was so challenging and they may not have a chance to have careers in that field. So it seems like you know, the leaders here at IMA really appreciated my efforts and thought that a better fit for both me and IMA is to focus about around diversity and inclusion initiatives more so on a full time basis. And here I am today since July 1st of 2018 being an IMA's director of diversity and inclusion. And since then, you know, I've just developed my own path with that particular position. So a lot of the initiatives that fall under that umbrella is education. For example, with IMA being a membership organization, you have to provide education not only for staff but for our members as well. So we've done training on, you know, various D&I topics recently specifically has to be laid to unconscious bias. You know, we have a great course under our Leadership Academy catalog called cultivating a bias free workplace and we use that as a product both for staff and members as relates to training in that area. I'm still doing an outreach where I'm going out next week to Savannah, Georgia to some of the historically black colleges and universities in that area. And other areas is the diversification of a leadership pipeline, both as relates to staff and all volunteers and then also just best practices determining what other organizations are doing as it relates to a diversity and inclusion initiative.
That's great. Following all these different initiatives and a lot of your personal outreach what do you think is the true value of diversity and inclusion? Why is this important? Why are you so passionate about accomplishing your own personal goals?
Right? So you hit it, you framed the question very well that this is clearly coming from my own personal passion. What's interesting and I'm so honored that I'm in this role because this is like the most exciting role in my career. Despite the fact that I don't consider myself an expert in the area, I'm still going through a learning curve in terms of how this position should play out. But the reason why I know I will be successful with it is because it relates to my personal passion. I can, you know, speak to it, you know, very directly, just based on when we talk about unconscious bias or conscious bias. I've experienced it all throughout my career, you know, so I know specifically how to apply it. and how I would like you know, a workplace to look like as it relates to diversity and inclusion. So in terms of value what I would suggest to other organizations, or what we have to keep in mind here is that no successful initiative with diversity is successful if you don't include the component of inclusion. So when I think about diversity and inclusion together, I think of transparency so you know, I just saw a quote recently about how diversity and inclusion should integrate together. And it said diversity is when you're invited to the party and inclusion is when you're asked to dance. And I thought that was a great correlation, you know, of the two just recently among our staff when we had trained in use India leadership academies, a course about developing a bias free workplace that was a great milestone for me and shared with you Mitch that you know, we actually saw staff, at least my observation was, is that there was staff that actually spoke up during that session that I've never seen in any other type of forum speak up. And I think it's because they, you know, based on what they do here at IMA, they may not think that they're at a level or maybe based on their title, they don't feel like they can or should be heard. But I was very fascinated that it seems like the, the walls just, there was no walls there and people just opened up and you know, when I see that type of environment development developing within an organization, that to me is you know, signs of success.
So I think that's a great point because, you know, personally witnessing the training session that we had obviously there were very positive results coming from that. So I'm just curious, you know, as awareness increases in our organization and the other organizations that you reach out to what kind of positive results have you seen elsewhere maybe outside of our own building here?
Well, actually I just been appointed to serve on behalf of IMA the organization called the American society of association executives more famously known as ASAE and they have a national diversity and inclusion committee. So I've been honored to be appointed and serve on behalf of IMA to represent IMA with that committee. And even before I was appointed to the committee, it seems like the word is spreading around of IMA being an organization that takes diversity and inclusion seriously. So one of the editors of ASAE's newsletter reached out to me and Giuseppe Barone, who was our public relations manager to write an article about how IMA has benefited from strategic partnerships that ties into our initiatives. So we have strategic partnerships with the national association of black accountants. For example, we have a partnership with the associations of Latino professionals for America. And then we also established a relationship as a sponsor for a program called the PhD project, which is a project that provides support to minority doctoral candidates. So I'm also very proud of that also that we're slowly but surely being recognized in an organization that has best practices so to speak. And people are asking us, you know, how we have developed our initiative.
That's a perfect segue also. so as you know, you're kind of leading the initiative on behalf of IMA and reaching a number of well established organizations for listeners and other organizations who may not have an affiliation with IMA, what kind of strategies would you recommend for them to implement their own D&I practices?
Right, so I think what they have to do is to look at the organization's focus. Their strategy, probably one of the first steps they would have to take is since most organizations, again their stakeholders are primarily staff and not so much volunteers. So I would say to take a, like an easier makeup of an organization. Let's take for example, an organization that just focuses more on staff. One of the first things they may want to do is have like an employee survey and get input from their employees in terms of what diversity and inclusion looks, you know, it looks like to them in terms of what they would be looking for in a workplace. What type of training that they would want to be involved in. You know I think the worst thing an organization can do is to take it upon themselves, especially in this area to determine a certain training methodology. And it's so far off the Mark from what staff is really looking for. So I would think that would be the first step because maybe based on the feedback they get from employees, you know, who knows, they may incorporate more events, you know, within an organization that would appeal to employees. affinity groups depending on how diverse the staff is within an organization that may apply or may be applicable. So I just think that an organization would have to do their homework not only internally but externally to again, look at what other organizations are doing in this space and see what practices would work for their organization.
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