By Tatiana Walk-Morris
Attracting and retaining diverse teams is critical for companies that wish to compete. How, then, can companies best build diverse teams?
We spoke with Herschel Frierson, strategic networks leader at the accounting, consulting and technology services firm Crowe, for insights into how organizations can diversify their accounting functions.
Revamp Recruitment Strategies
One good place to start is by hiring talent from a wider variety of backgrounds. Companies can recruit from sources that have until now been underutilized, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), says Frierson, who also serves as the board chair of the National Association of Black Accountants.
“If you go to the same pond, you’ll get the same fish. What companies need to do is go to a different pond to get different fish,” he says.
Companies can commit to hiring certain percentages of their new employees from HBCUs and other institutions of higher learning. Yet efforts to diversify should also start earlier. Frierson recommends that companies cultivate pipelines of future accountants by reaching out to precollege students and offering them encouraging news: The accounting profession is an option for them, and it’s one they should take seriously.
“We need to start younger. We’re even talking about focusing on students younger than high school to introduce them to accounting and finance. We need to get more people into the market.”
Make Employees Feel Valued
Once employees are in the door, the next step, Frierson says, is to ensure that they feel valued.
Taking certain organizational measures, such as setting up internal support groups for specific demographics of employees, can help demonstrate the organization’s commitment.
Then there’s the financial angle.
While the student loan debt crisis affects many Americans, some students can be hit harder than others. Recent research indicates that Black college graduates carry student loan burdens that are, on average, $25,000 higher than those of their white peers.
Given that fact, organizations can boost their diversity profiles by offering to pay off student loan debt for accountants from underrepresented backgrounds in exchange for commitments to the company for a minimum number of years, Frierson says. Such deals can be life changing for graduates. But they’re also advantageous for organizations that will benefit from the presence of loyal employees who stay for the long term—a boon at any time, but especially during this period of churn in the labor market.
“Organizations should acknowledge that new employees generate revenue as soon as they come on staff, so investing in them by paying off student debt is significant. In terms of retention, can you imagine the commitment that young people would have knowing that an employer paid off their educational loans?” Frierson asks.
In addition to seeking and providing internal support for diverse recruits, Frierson stresses the importance of promoting employees of color. Promotion isn’t just a way of rewarding excellent employees. It’s also, he says, something that helps employees visualize their long-term futures at a company, and that is important for morale.
“Employees might consider, ‘Is there opportunity for advancement? Do I see myself as a principal or a partner? Can I reach leadership status at this organization?’ If the answers to those questions are ‘no,’ then these employees will likely take their talents and skills elsewhere,” he says.
Companies should specifically allocate resources to help employees from underrepresented backgrounds prepare for advancement opportunities. A sponsorship program might pair employees with executives dedicated to helping them advance. The goal shouldn’t be just giving everyone a seat at the table, either, Frierson says. “Just sitting at a table is not enough. We’ve got to be able to eat at it, too,” he says.
An accounting firm’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy needs to consist of recruitment, retention and promotion components. “It’s a three-legged stool. If you don’t recruit, you’re not going to have anyone to retain. And if you don’t have anyone to retain, you don’t have anyone to promote,” Frierson says.
The national dialogue around social justice issues has prompted many companies to reflect on how they affect the world and pledge to do better. As they continue moving from reflection to action, they can work toward diversifying their accounting teams—which is beneficial to all.
Tatiana Walk-Morris is a Detroit-born, Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology.
Learn more about the DE&I journey at Crowe.