How to embed diversity and inclusion in your accountancy firm

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There is little point recruiting diverse candidates into your firm without also creating an inclusive environment in which everyone feels safe, welcome and able to bring their whole selves to work. But when it comes to inclusion, it can be hard to roll out policies that support people’s very individual circumstances – whether that is age, background, gender or role as carers.

Building an inclusive workplace is a journey, and one that requires buy-in from the whole organisation. “It needs everyone’s engagement to change a culture,” says Lindsay Pentelow, partner at Mazars.

“You could have the best diversity networks in the world but if the board or the senior leaders in the business are not engaged nothing will happen,” she says. Likewise, she adds, the board could focus on diversity but without engaging the entire organisation, culture change will not be achieved.

Training teams about diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a good starting point. “Education and training are vital across all levels of the business,” says Lily Montgomery, senior audit partner at HW Fisher [].

Many firms use online training programmes to educate employees about employment law and diversity, according to a 2017 report. While these are flexible and convenient, the study notes that such packages “can be forgettable, perfunctory or seemingly disconnected from the workplace”.

Training needs to be ongoing – for example through workshops and events –  and “thought of as an informal activity” so it can tackle issues such as unconscious bias, advise the researchers.

Internal communications can also build on training and develop further understanding amongst employees. For example, larger firms send around diversity bulletins and calendars “so that cultural awareness becomes more embedded in daily routines”, according to the report.

Alongside broadcasting diversity news, internal channels can also help employees connect and support each other. “We have also used our internal communications channels to highlight the diverse experiences of our people through storytelling,” says Justine Campbell, managing partner for talent at EY []. “Sharing experiences can be a powerful way to connect your people and remind them of the diversity within their teams.”

Many firms look to employee groups to promote in-person exchange and support. “We have a number of working groups and employee-led networks to help promote D&I at EY,” says Campbell. “For example, we have a well-established Women’s Network, EY Ability network which supports our people with disabilities, and EY Unity, which celebrates 25 years this year and connects our LGBT+ communities.”

Such networks are an opportunity to link people across the firm so people see role models, gain experience from them and build relationships, says Sonya Rees, director at Blick Rothenberg []. The Women’s Network at the firm, for example, runs formal and informal events including “meet the partner” sessions, which they are also hoping to extend to showcase all levels of seniority.

“It is a chance to hear about other people's experiences and what they have done in their career: how they have got to where they got to, the barriers they may have met or how we can help overcome them,” says Rees.

Learning from these experiences and hearing people talk openly about their career challenges is essential, she adds.

“In everything we do – in diversity, part-time working, people with elderly parents they need to care for, all of those things – you need to nudge those conversations along, nudge behaviour and give people ideas so they can then work out what works best for them and their circumstances,” she says.

Indeed, shared parental leave and flexible working are two growing trends at HW Fisher, according to Montgomery. “Covid has certainly driven rapid change in working practice and we expect it to accelerate change even further for ourselves and the industry as a whole,” says Montgomery.

Reverse mentoring can be another interesting way to build awareness about diversity among senior professionals. For example, EY recommends reverse mentoring as a strategy for building inclusion for LGBT+ colleagues as younger colleagues tend to be more open to the issues compared with older professionals.

As well as connecting professionals, outward signs of support can be powerful. “Visible signs of allyship are very important: they change the dynamic and create a safe space,” says Pentelow. “Hundreds of colleagues wearing rainbow lanyards, for example, has demonstrated support and solidarity in a meaningful way for our LGBT colleagues.”

If you would like any further support with different aspects of D&I, more is available on our recruiter zone including how to attract more diverse candidates and how to de-bias your selection process.

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