Survey: Many Feel Their Firms are Behind on DEI Programs

Only 53% of accounting firms in a new survey have taken direct action on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, with the remainder in the discussion stages, thinking about it or not interested in pursuing the issue.

The survey of 145 accounting marketers and business developers is not representative of the profession as a whole, but it reflects behaviors and perceptions at the firm level. For example, 82% of respondents say they believe their firm’s DEI initiatives are either on par (46%) or behind others (36%).

At the same time, nearly all the respondents believe progress on DEI is important to show diversity in race and gender within firm leadership and staff, and to actively show that the firm is working on the issue and creating new opportunities. And yet, just 52% offer DEI training.

DEI is even more important to Gen Y and younger workers, who make up over half of the workforce, says Eric Gregg, founder of ClearlyRated, which specializes in Net Promoter Score and satisfaction surveys. “Not only is this really important for all the altruistic reasons, and that teams perform better, it’s also going to be important to attract and retain staff to lead in the future.” ClearlyRated conducted the survey in partnership with bbr companies, a strategic marketing and DEI firm, and the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM).

 “Everyone in general is asking more of the organizations that they engage with,” Gregg said in a recent webinar on the survey results. “They’re judging on a wider swath of things.” It’s not just about compensation and benefits. Job seekers want employers whose culture aligns with their values. In fact, the survey showed that firms with more mature DEI programs had higher Net Promoter Scores.

Survey respondents do see some progress. Over 70% of respondents believe their firms are working to create a more representative workforce and are reaching out to diverse candidates. Fewer firms are moving forward with pay equity or blind hiring, however, and 56% disagree that there is racial or ethnic diversity among leadership.

Instituting a blind resume review is one way to get started on a DEI program, says Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, bbr president and DEI consultant. Stripping resumes of any information that could identify a candidate by gender or race, such as their name or college, for example, can eliminate unconscious bias so candidates are evaluated on skills and experience alone. Gregg says his company’s “Team Hire Better” uses an affordable applicant tracking system called Pinpoint to make resumes anonymous.

Ruszczyk recommends firms hire an external provider to conduct a DEI survey to get a pulse on employee perceptions and experiences early on. Unconscious bias training is another place to start.

Marketers attending the webinar added their own suggestions. One firm conducted a pay equity analysis by gender and underrepresented racial and ethnic populations and released the results to the entire workforce. Another firm solicited volunteers who are passionate about the issue to lead the effort, while another created an HR/marketing team to work on the issue together.

The survey confirms that leadership support is key, as the majority of those who feel their firm is ahead of their peers on DEI reported that firm leaders were the primary owners of the projects, rather than HR.

“Don’t try to do all things all at once,” Ruszczyk recommends. “Try to figure out where your firm is, where you want to go and lay out a plan of small steps to get you there.”



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