New and Retooled Diversity Programs Center Around Inclusion and Forging Fresh Relevance

Three young coworkers working together in a modern office.Man wearing glasses and discussing with colleague new project.Horizontal,blurred background.Originally included in the 2021 Accounting MOVE Project Report

A robust, transparent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program is the new baseline at accounting firms. Poll results released in May 2021 by Harris, found that 66% of Americans believe that businesses should “take action” on racial injustice issues, and a nearly identical proportion expected that such issues would be openly addressed at their workplaces.

“Real progress with DEI doesn’t come easy—in fact, unease is one marker of a genuine process,” said Erlinda Stiles, human resources business partner with BPM, and a Black and Asian-American woman. While BPM has gained traction with promoting higher proportions of women and ethnic minority employees, the firm’s leaders also grasped that addressing deep and lasting change requires open-ended discussions about social justice topics that are not likely to end with the tidy conclusions that are inherent to accounting culture. “This firm is comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Stiles.

“We have a long history of diverse hiring practices, including women and women of color. This continued throughout the pandemic and recent civil rights activism,” said said Jon D’Agostino, director of human resources and employee administration at Johnson & Yau. “Alongside these policies, we launched a formal diversity, inclusion and belonging initiative in 2021 that includes support of local Black community organizations, an endowment at our local university to support Black and other students of color entering the public accounting industry and membership in organizations that support diversity, including the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and CEO Action.”

Like other firms that had debated the investment in a structured diversity and inclusion effort, Novogradac was propelled by 2020’s high-profile national discussion about civil rights to go all in.

The firm realized that it couldn’t just make a few statements on its website and call it a day, said partner Elaine Chang. “It’s a point of commonality between our workforce and business partners,” she said. In sync with other leading national firms, Novogradac realized that its efforts to recruit ethnically diverse college graduates would ring false if the firm couldn’t prove it was making real strides—not just noise—with diversity, equity and inclusion.

With a newly minted Social Impact Committee, a Chief Social Impact Officer and a full-time DEI manager, Novogradac is one of several MOVE firms that converted 2020’s painful self-awareness to motivation. “We can’t be tone-deaf,” said Chang. “We are smart enough to know what we do well and what we don’t. Culturally, we do a good job. But we can do better.”

The seismic shift to remote work has realigned the recruiting landscape. The chronic competition for talent now has no geographic boundaries—a dynamic that cuts both ways: firms must compete nationwide for talent, and on terms that accentuate culture and opportunity, amplifying recruits’ expectations of evidence of real results for diversity efforts.

“Real progress with DEI doesn’t come easy—in fact, unease is one marker of a genuine process,” said Erlinda Stiles, human resources business partner with BPM.


Virtual meetings leveled the speaking field for some women and ethnic minorities who had previously gravitated to the perimeters of onsite meetings, and who had refrained from speaking up. “There’s a leveling for organizations that have a lopsided presence across geographies. We’re interacting in ways we haven’t before,” said Adelle Starr, executive director of marketing for Frazier & Deeter, which has nine satellites as well as its headquarters in Atlanta.

“We have been actively working with universities and Black CPA organizations to try to get the word out,” said Tricia Duncan, a partner and director of operations with Jones & Roth. “Through working with those organizations, we hope to bring more diversity into the accounting profession so there is more diverse talent to recruit from down the road.”

“We’re finding more people of color as we recruit outside the Bay area, and I’m thrilled by it. These are people we would not have found and are a great addition to our company,” said Dave Roberson, president of RoseRyan. The firm’s ongoing mastery of remote work—it manages projects for clients with its roster of consultants–made it the go-to for clients suddenly struggling to shift to remote work.

“We’ve had several opportunities in the past year to say, ‘we need more leadership in this area, can you step up to lead this initiative?’ And that has been fruitful because it’s a shared achievement—consultants get bonuses based on that. It’s aligning our goals with how we pay and treat people.”

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