A growing body of research is underscoring the profound impact instilling diverse leadership teams can have on a business. More representative leadership teams not only tend to lead to more profitable and customer-oriented businesses, but increased diversity at the top can fundamentally change the direction of a business. For example, a survey of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries found that the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlated with increased profitability of these companies.
Another recent study of 163 multinational businesses over a 12 year period showed that those with greater gender parity diverged from the norm in three major ways: they were open to change, be it process, directional or market based; they invested more budget in R&D initiatives and were beginning to see the rewards; and they saw greater efficiency and loyalty from female — as well as other historically marginalized — employees.
These benefits are foundational. Despite this, however, women make up only 27% of partners and principals at CPA firms. How can accounting firms look to encourage a greater equality in their leadership in the short term before they start to see competitors reap the benefits which come from more diverse teams?
Cast a wide net with recruiting
A recent global survey of more than 1,900 businesses found that CFOs in the U.S. are redefining what it means to be a finance leader. Reflecting that, the recruitment funnel shouldn’t impose arbitrary limitations like only looking at certain colleges or within specific regions or academic disciplines for talent. Businesses should expand the talent pool they’re looking at beyond just traditionally trained accountants to include anyone who has a passion for data, math, and stats.
The finance function has changed so much over the last 25 years. Instead of it being retrospective looking, the finance team now needs to present data-driven insights and options to other business leaders in the company. That means the ideal candidate needs to be able to distill large amounts of data into usable information, as well as factor in different trends impacting tech and the cloud, such as cybersecurity issues. Someone who may not have been exposed to accounting in college could still have the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful within this industry.
Appeal to the next generation
When thinking about recruiting, consider what type of workplace younger generations want to work in. This same recent research found that finance leaders aged 25-34 are more likely to say that enhancing sustainability programs are a top priority for their organization. Gallup found that millennials and Gen Z want employers to care about the wellbeing of their employees and put a priority on the ethics and inclusivity of their organization’s leadership. Good culture, meaningful attention to mental health, and powerful environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives are going to be increasingly important to attract the best talent.
Advocate for nontraditional talent in the industry
Diversity and inclusion must also involve recruiting neurodiverse talent. With the flexibility of working from home and other new working styles that were introduced during the pandemic, we now have more potential than ever to create an environment where everyone can fit in and find their calling.
Having diverse backgrounds and different abilities within the workplace strengthens the business by incorporating different perspectives. Once a company has recruited a diverse talent pool, it’s important to nurture these employees through mentorship so they can thrive within the company.
Invest in female senior leadership
Last, but certainly not least, companies must invest in their female senior leadership to close the gender gap. Offer professional development resources with the time set aside for developing leaders to take full advantage of them. Within the organization, companies should also invest in anti-bias training to combat unconscious bias, stereotypes and microaggressions that could be subtly undermining an inclusive workplace.
Encouraging women to join mentoring programs like the AICPA Online Mentoring Program outside the organization will also help to connect employees with experienced leaders who can offer an objective perspective and guidance. An AICPA survey found that turnover of females in public accounting is most impacted by “family interfering with work,” but mentors who have experienced the same kind of work/family juggling act can play an important role in helping to overcome this barrier.
For someone to see a long-term future within a company, they need to see they’re valued. This starts right at the beginning from the recruiting process and continues to how they’re treated within the company to the type of future advancement path that’s laid out before them. Companies can help to break down barriers for women in accounting by developing a strong talent pipeline, investing in career support, and nurturing a culture that helps them succeed.