Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Beyond Diversity: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging

Accounting firms often focus on growth and profit as a measure of success, but now there is a trend to evaluate success in new and different ways, based around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. PrimeGlobal signed the CEO Act!on pledge as a commitment to advancing DEI in the workplace


he modern generation of accountants want to work for firms that have purpose, viewing organisations through an ethical and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) lens, where all ideas are welcome, and employees feel comfortable and empowered. This cultural competency understands, communicates with, and effectively cultivates a trusting environment where the firm is representative of the communities it serves and interacts with people of diverse backgrounds.

Sandi Guy, Partner, Carr, Riggs & Ingram

The core values of DEI are fundamental to creating conditions in the firm for all professionals to thrive. Using cultural humility throughout the organisation will nurture skills in the language of inclusion and foster belonging, both reflected in the world today.

PrimeGlobal, the 2020 IAB Association of the Year, is heavily focused on DEI providing thought leadership, education, and training. As one of the 2021 INSIGHTS, PrimeGlobal is committed to promoting DEI. Steve Heathcote, PrimeGlobal CEO, recently signed the CEO Act!on pledge,  a commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Since then PrimeGlobal has encouraged member firms to do the same, with 20+ firms pledging to date.

The association recently hosted an insightful DEI panel discussion featuring panelists Helen Brand, ACCA Chief Executive; Joyce Adeluwoye-Adams, Reuters Editor - Newsroom Diversity; and PrimeGlobal members Emma Roberts, Creaseys, Chief Executive; Sandi Guy, Carr, Riggs & Ingram, Partner, Human Capital; and Rhett Ennis, Berntson Porter & Co. Partner.

“We spent time understanding the definitions of DEI and unpacking the challenges of building this initiative into firm strategy”, says Michelle Arnold, panel facilitator and Executive Director, PrimeGlobal North America. “The panelists had experience and skills that were expertly shared, and the audience left with actionable tools and essential assets for navigating dialogue and courageous conversations in the workplace. We know there is no single formula for improving diversity and inclusion that is applicable to every firm or environment. However, we believe that openly sharing actions in a spirit of collaboration will allow our member firms to achieve their diversity and inclusion goals faster than any firm could achieve on its own.”

Leaning into what matters to others and creating conditions for under-represented employees to thrive is key. DEI is not a corporate agenda, nor an HR agenda, it is an agenda for the entire firm at every level. Progress can only be made when the language and focus are right.

Michelle Arnold, Executive Director, PrimeGlobal North America

Diversity can be reflected upon as the breadth of society that we live in, be that defined by a variety of categorisations some of which may be visible, many of which are not visible. Diverse should be used to define the composition of a group not an individual. When a group is diverse, leaders can value how every person contributes to the group multiplicity, as opposed to adding one person who seems unlike the rest and calling them diverse. When leaders see their team as a diverse group or portfolio, they are more likely to see and value the additive contribution of individuals instead of essentializing differences. Using the term diverse can also obscure talent instead of highlighting it. There is no diverse hire or candidate.

Emma Roberts, CEO at PrimeGlobal member firm Creaseys

Equity is about bringing fairness to the equation, ensuring fair treatment for each experience. As a service profession, it is important that we strive to achieve equity for our team and for our clients. Equality is fair treatment for people in every facet of life regardless of their gender, race, disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or age. Equity in the workplace is making sure people are given the same opportunities, equal pay and are well accepted for their differences. It is creating an inclusive and conducive work environment where employees feel secure and happy. Advancing equal opportunity and financial empowerment is both morally right and good economics because discrimination and ignorance restrict growth. Equality does not necessarily translate to equal treatment for all. It is promoting an individual’s right to be different. It can only be done by adjusting the system to meet the needs of different people.

Steve Heathcote, PrimeGlobal CEO

Inclusion is how we bring every dimension of this rich society into the equation, ensuring that the mix works together. The inclusion piece of DEI means making sure that those different voices are heard and valued and that they contribute to the performance of the firm. Training professionals on unconscious bias, which occurs when individuals make judgments about people based on gender, race, or other factors without realizing they are doing it, drives home the importance of modeling inclusive behavior. That means structuring meetings, allocating resources, and using language that advances inclusion. Employees need to see that inclusive behavior is a core competency of the organisation.

“When employees who are different from their colleagues can flourish, the company benefits from their ideas, skills, and engagement. The retention rate of those workers also rises. Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.” says Emma Roberts, Creaseys, Chief Executive and panelist.

Unless opportunities and gains are shared equitably among all workers, owners, and business leaders, we will not have strong, ongoing economic growth. Inequality among ethnic groups, women, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities hinders prosperity for all and fuels the need for safety nets in lieu of self-empowerment, independence, dignity, and respect. Much of this inequality stems from long-standing, systemic, and structural inequities in the economy that have kept certain groups from having a fair chance to get ahead. The playing field is not level.

“For an organisation to adopt DEI accountability, it must be implemented at all organisational levels, from CEO to staff”, says Sandi Guy, Carr, Riggs & Ingram Partner, and panelist. “To support our external efforts in addition to our hiring practices, we monitor data and metrics on our employee population and also poll that population to better understand their experience and needs.”

PrimeGlobal is committed to working to correct these debilitating norms by challenging the status quo, bringing our collective voice and interests together to develop and support policy for sound association and firm strategy and practices that will ensure a sustainable, healthy economy for an increasingly diverse global marketplace. By working together toward diversity and inclusion within our association and all 850+ workplaces, industries, and broader business community, we can cultivate meaningful change for our society.