- 93% of Australian workers believe organisations need to take action to address racism, but only 27% say their organisations are proactive in preventing it, according to the Diversity Council of Australia’s "Racism at Work" study.
- While there’s still more to be done we’re seeing organisations – including the Big Four – bring in policies that commit to creating a culture of inclusion.
- Skills such as empathetic reasoning, active listening, cross-cultural communication and emotional intelligence should be integral to accountants’ training.
As a researcher, it’s safe to say I’m a fan of data (or numbers as we used to call them back in the ’90s). But following is some data I can confidently say I’m not so keen on.
The Diversity Council of Australia’s Racism at Work study, completed in 2021, reports that 93% of Australian workers believe organisations need to take action to address racism, but only 27% say their organisations are proactive in preventing workplace racism.
In addition, the Diversity Council’s [email protected] 2021 study found just 18% of LGBTQQI+ workers in organisations that were not active on diversity and inclusion (D&I) feel “very satisfied” with their job – compared with 51% in active D&I organisations who feel “very satisfied” with their job.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have been on the business agenda for many years. While there’s still more to be done (see above), we’re seeing organisations – including the Big Four – bring in policies that commit to creating a culture of inclusion.
Really, it’s not about business
To understand more about what effect such policies are having in Australian accounting firms, I spoke with Nick McGuigan CA, an associate professor of accounting and director of Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion at Monash Business School.
When I first emailed Nick some questions that I hoped would kick off a fruitful discussion, at the last minute I added the obligatory “What are the benefits of diversity to the business?” query. After all, I am writing for a business audience.
On our video call, McGuigan, who identifies as queer, graciously acknowledged that he understood why I had to ask that question. Discussing business benefits often acts as an entry point to change, he noted. But it’s what he said next that really resonated with me – and I hope it will with you, too.
He said: “I find that question now somewhat confrontational as it again goes back to ‘what is the business case for diversity?’ Why should we put up a business case for diversity?
“This is, for me, at heart about humanity. This should be in our work culture, full stop, without having to justify [it]. Every time that business case question comes up, it’s like we have to put a business case forward just to exist.”
I feel I should insert some sort of *pause* here for impact.
Does having a diversity policy equal inclusion?
I spoke with McGuigan and his Monash Business School colleague Carly Moulang CA, also an associate professor, for some time about diversity policies in accounting firms.
Moulang noted that in respect to women, the Big Four don’t always walk the talk. “The big firms have the policies and procedures in place, but the reality isn’t consistent with those policies and procedures. And besides, they reflect the very minimum of what firms need to do to create more inclusive workplaces.”
McGuigan has found that accounting firms often have policies in place designed to create a safe space for LGBTQI+ people, but that those policies may not be working to the benefit of all in the community. As he explains, the experience of a white, gay male in accounting may differ greatly to others identifying within the LGBTQQIA+ spectrum.
“If you’re trans or a person of colour you’re still going to find it difficult working in those spaces,” he said on our call.
Both McGuigan and Moulang see a need for accounting firms of all sizes to create safe spaces where everyone feels the sense of psychological safety and belonging. Creating that safe space could start with how accountants are trained.
We can train for inclusive skills
Skills such as empathetic reasoning, active listening, cross-cultural communication and emotional intelligence should be integral to accountants’ training, say McGuigan and Moulang.
The academics believe there is an opportunity for universities, as well as firms of all sizes, to explore training programs for these skills that complement DEI policies and frameworks already in place.
For leaders in organisations, being aware of your leadership style, seeking honest feedback on how you are performing in terms of creating an inclusive space, and committing to action as needed can be a powerful way to drive change.
Juliet Bourke from UNSW Business School spoke recently on the ABC’s “This Working Life” podcast (the highlight of my Monday mornings) about her PhD research which showed that people are more likely to endorse or acknowledge colleagues who are ‘like me’ than those who are ‘different to me’.
Bourke found that we are three times less likely to endorse or acknowledge a colleague who is ‘different to me’. The simple act of being aware of this and committing to a rebalance can have an impact on the inclusive nature of a workplace.
For those practitioners who are eager to create change, you can look to businesses such as Brisbane-based TJ Accounting Consultants, run by two women accountants – proudly Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ – who focus on supporting female business owners.
There’s also financial services company Fox & Hare in Sydney, which has a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion through its desire to service younger people, women and LGBTQQIA+ customers who they believe have been left out of the financial services conversation.
DEI can feel like an overwhelming topic. I acknowledge that I haven’t even touched on disability, neurodiversity, the bamboo ceiling, intersectionality, religion, race and culture. There is data to suggest there is much work to be done on each of those areas.
Yet, more importantly, there are people behind that data. So while, yes, I am a big fan of data, I’m a bigger fan of no-one ever having to feel they have to justify why they exist. So I’m just going to leave the “business case” out of this one.
“While, yes, I am a big fan of data, I’m a bigger fan of no-one ever having to feel they have to justify why they exist.”
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