Kraten opened the panel by showing a video produced by Deloitte highlighting its commitment to diversity in the workplace. Kraten then asked Barton about Deloitte’s approach to diversity and inclusion. “There’s no doubt that, for us to remain competitive, the talent, recruitment and retention that we’re going to need in order to stay cutting-edge, in order to innovate, is absolutely critical,” Barton said. In addition, millennials at the firm have been a significant driver in this change in perspective. “There are new rules to the game now,” she said.

Doerr agreed, saying that Thomson Reuters shares that attitude, and that “selling” diversity to management has become easier over the past five years. Diversity must also be more holistic, she said, adding, “It’s not just about bringing in the talent. It’s not just about engaging the talent. It’s about retaining and advancing the talent.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Kraten then asked how accountants could measure the value of diversity, noting that “any effort has costs” and that measuring the resulting value could be beneficial in convincing reluctant members of management. Ackerman stressed the importance of creating “a culture where everyone can feel welcome.” He used the metaphor of a family, saying, “The best type of family is diverse, because that’s where you get the most diverse sets of opinions, and that’s where innovation and great new thinking comes from.” In addition, he said that retaining diverse talent is just as important as attracting it: “You can’t just throw them away after a year and a half.” The goal, he said, should be for employees to want to remain with the firm for their entire career.

Doerr added that diversity and inclusion are equally important. “You can bring in a whole bunch of diverse people, but if the culture doesn’t support it, it’s just not going to work,” she said, adding that managers like to see statistics showing how diversity and inclusion improve “productivity, engagement, and ultimately the bottom line.”

Barton then shared figures from Deloitte’s annual global human capital trends survey, which has concluded that inclusive organizations are six times more likely to be innovative, three times more likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be agile, twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, and eight times more likely to have overall better business outcomes. In short, she said, “The business case is so compelling now.” As for the distinction between diversity and inclusion, she quoted this aphorism: “‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’”

Making the Business Case

Kraten’s next question was to the audience, asking how they as potential employees try to gauge diversity and inclusiveness when sizing up a firm. One audience member said that corporate clients who also value diversity would appreciate seeing it in the firm’s work-force and client pool. On the issue of inclusion, he said that having the initiative “woven into the fabric of the organization” is critical, as is having that tone set at the top by management.

Kraten then brought data analytics into the equation as a possible way to demonstrate the monetary value of diversity. Ackerman disagreed, saying, “I think if your CEO needs a spreadsheet to say that you need diversity, you need a new CEO.” Doerr agreed, but also said that the business case can be helpful in starting the dialogue about diversity. “Most CEOs are on board,” she said, but it was a question whether they could “walk the talk.”

Barton mentioned a hypothetical example that Deloitte uses in its own diversity training: a “diversity team” composed entirely of white males. Such a team, she said, would be unlikely to convince clients that the firm was genuinely devoted to diversity initiatives. In addition, she said, accountants are increasingly being called upon to provide strategic advice to their clients in addition to traditional accounting and auditing services, and the profession would therefore do well to recruit from multiple educational backgrounds and skill sets.

Ackerman said, “We know that diversity and inclusion is where the future is going and where accounting has to be.”

Doerr agreed, quoting some statistics that within the next two decades, 70% of assets under financial management—approximately $60 to $70 trillion dollars—will be in the hands of millennials and women, who, she noted, tend to care more about social impact. The implications for the financial services industry, she said, will be “tremendous.”

Final Thoughts

Kraten asked the panelists for final thoughts. Ackerman said that firms can no longer make excuses: “You either have to get on board, or you’re going to go out of business,” he said. “We know that diversity and inclusion is where the future is going and where accounting has to be.”

Doerr said that companies must “keep hammering away” at their efforts to be more diverse and inclusive. “You cannot give up on any aspect of it.” She added that Thomson Reuters has recently launched a diversity and inclusion index to help companies assess their progress.

Barton offered the idea that diversity is critical to building a company’s trust and credibility. In addition, she said, “We can’t afford to ignore half the talent pool of the world.”

Kraten concluded by asking the audience to consider “the possibility that what you are looking at here is the future of the profession.” Whether accountants are passionate about diversity in and of itself, or whether they see the business advantages and opportunities available, “you should join the conversation and continue to work with us.”

Michael Kraten, PhD, CPA professor of accounting at Providence College, moderated the panel.
Helena Barton, PhD partner and client service executive at Deloitte & Touche LLP;.
Patsy Doerr global head of corporate responsibility, sustainability, and inclusion at Thomson Reuters;.
Jason L. Ackerman, CPA, CFP, CGMA accountant at BNA CPA & Advisors, were the panelists.