- In 2021, CA ANZ conducted a survey on inclusion and diversity among members to support the development of its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) Strategy.
- Overall, 93% of respondents said they had not experienced discriminatory behaviour in the past five years (11% above the benchmark).
- However, the survey did reveal instances of exclusionary and negative behaviour, particularly for women, LGBTIQA+ individuals and people with a disability.
Story Megan BreeIn
llustrations Neil Webb
As many sectors – including accounting – continue to face talent shortages, retaining staff is critical to ongoing business success. But money is not the sole factor in the talent equation. Firms with solid strategies in place for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) may find it easier than others to attract and retain candidates in a tight job market.
What is DEI?
Diversity in the workplace is about more than employing people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, sexual identities, cultural backgrounds and education levels. It’s about enabling inclusivity, psychological safety and diversity of thought; about fostering creativity and social justice. And research shows a diverse workplace is good for the bottom line.
McKinsey & Company’s 2020 report Diversity Wins, reveals that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, McKinsey’s findings show that in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36% in profitability.
And, with spending on diversity and inclusion initiatives projected to reach US$15.4 billion globally by 2026, it appears that more organisations are understanding the benefits DEI can bring to business.
CA ANZ and inclusion
In 2021, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) conducted its own inclusion and diversity survey among members, with the help of independent research and insights company Kantar. Responses to the survey are helping to inform the development of CA ANZ’s ambitious three-year DEI Strategy.
The more than 2000 CA ANZ members who took part in the survey were asked to provide information based on their experiences over the past five years. While 93% of respondents said they had not experienced discriminatory behaviour in the past five years – which is 11% above the benchmark – there were some less positive aspects.
The survey revealed instances of broader exclusionary and negative behaviour, particularly for women, LGBTIQA+ individuals and people with a disability. Half of all people who identified as LGBTIQA+, for example, reported they have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. For people with a disability, just over half (53%) experienced being spoken over or not listened to in meetings. (See “What did the CA ANZ survey tell us?”)
On the positive side, 77% of respondents said they believed their unique attributes, skills and experience were valued by their organisations.
CA ANZ’s DEI Strategy
“The profession’s desire to address diversity, equity and inclusion came through during our strategic refresh in 2020, and in our more recent member research study,” explains CA ANZ chief executive officer Ainslie van Onselen.
Pictured: Ainslie van Onselen, CA ANZ CEO
“The profession’s desire to address diversity, equity and inclusion came through during our strategic refresh in 2020.”
“This DEI Strategy is testament to the forward thinking nature of members. There’s a lot of inclusive practice being demonstrated in the profession, with members feeling a strong sense of belonging to their organisations,” she adds.
“That’s backed up by the fact that relatively few members report experiencing direct discrimination based on their personal characteristics.”
But there’s more to be done. CA ANZ’s DEI Strategy aims to mobilise the entire profession around three pillars: Inclusive Culture, Inclusive Careers and Inclusive Leadership. It will develop a comprehensive continuing professional development (CPD) education program including courses on cultural competence, bystander training, unconscious bias, psychological safety and inclusive leadership.
It will also set up an Inclusion Coalition & Accord, which asks member organisations to commit to a range of measurable DEI outcomes including publicly reporting organisational level pay gaps and action plans.
“Although the research shows some good results, there are areas of concern, particularly around negative behaviour. That illustrates why this strategy is needed, so we can all play a role in creating an inclusive and respectful profession,” says CA ANZ president Kate Boorer FCA.
“I know that chartered accountants are up for this challenge, because that’s what we do – we rise to challenges and create better futures. It’s time to address diversity, equity and inclusion not just for our clients and businesses, but for ourselves and our colleagues,” she says.
Pictured: Kate Boorer FCA, CA ANZ President
“I know that chartered accountants are up for this challenge, because that’s what we do – we rise to challenges and create better futures.”
A quarter of CA ANZ’s members live with either a disability, medical condition or impairment, and half of all members have carer responsibilities, which can affect their relationship with the workplace.
But while the make-up of CA ANZ members across Australia and New Zealand is diverse, there is an under-representation of some groups, such as individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community (7%) and Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander people (less than 1%) – and significant under-representation of Māori and Pasifika communities (5%).
The DEI Strategy follows a range of work both from CA ANZ and the wider profession to address diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year, CA ANZ produced Narrowing Your Gender Pay Gap, a playbook to help members and organisations address their pay gaps. In 2021, it released Talking Talent, a playbook focused on getting the settings right for recruiting and retaining talent in the audit area. Both playbooks can be found on the CA ANZ website.
A key to attracting younger employees
Tony Fittler FCA, managing partner at HLB Mann Judd Sydney and chair of the HLB Mann Judd Australasian Association, has had diversity as a focus for many years. He led the development of a Diversity and Inclusion Program that has been operating since 2016 at the Sydney office.
“We know that diversity and inclusiveness is critical to the underlying success of a business but we still see a lack of women and people from different cultures in leadership positions at many firms,” he says.
“That lack of diversity comes as a direct result of the traditional structure of accounting practices, the slow response to changes in society norms and unconscious bias which exists within the profession.”
Fittler says it is crucial to have a diverse and engaged workforce to reduce employee turnover, provide better customer relationships, and increase productivity – all of which feed into a better business and higher incomes. The current tight labour market, he says, should be a clear impetus for the profession to start implementing DEI initiatives. “It’s accelerating the need for organisations to develop their own inclusive cultures because they’re not going to attract or retain talent if they don’t.”
People want to work at places that reflect their values. That’s especially important for millennials, who have driven much of the focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues over the past decade as consumers, and are now the largest group in the workforce. They expect an employer would share their values on the environment and social issues.
That’s why diversity and inclusion policies should extend to broader issues than career paths, and why organisations are using them to build staff engagement. For example, in 2022, Deloitte UK introduced “flexible public holidays’’ to enable staff to take time off on the holidays that have meaning to them. In Australia in January, in consultation with its Indigenous Leadership Team, Deloitte introduced three days of reflection – Respect, Reflect and Reinvent – around the 26 January anniversary of the First Fleet’s landing as a way to acknowledge complex feelings about the date.
How accounting firms are embracing DEI
HLB Mann Judd’s Fittler says the emphasis on diversity and inclusion is a win-win for his organisation.
“Women were leaving the firm after maternity leave because there were no roles that suited their needs. We could see that many women were happy to have a senior role but didn’t want what they saw was required of partners.
“We encouraged partners and staff to undertake an intensive diversity and inclusion training course to see how roles could change to better suit people’s requirements.
“We are now at a stage where we have people coming back after parental leave and working for us in a way that suits everyone,” he says.
“We tend to adjust the role based on their parental requirements and career goals. We have several directors who recently returned from parental leave on a part-time basis.”
The Big Four firms have also put effort into diversity and inclusion programs. To expand the talent pool at EY, the firm developed its “EY Reconnect” program. This supports people who have had an extended career break and would like to reconnect with their career. For example, women who may have left the workforce to start a family can come back and access a reskilling program. Deloitte has a similar program called “Return To Work”.
EY is also working with military veterans through a partnership with an organisation called With You With Me. The program identifies veterans and military spouses (with a particular focus on neurodivergent talent) and enables them to retrain and take up technology roles in areas such as cyber, digital and emerging tech.
It’s a collective challenge
CA ANZ’s DEI Strategy, with its commitment to measurable outcomes, is an initiative aimed at the accounting and finance profession as a whole.
“The research results tell us this is a collective challenge, and therefore our strategy aims to mobilise the entire profession as a collective,” says van Onselen.
“It’s about providing our members with the pathways to excel, whether that’s cultural competency as part of their CPD, unconscious bias training and inclusion content in the new CA Program modules, or the launch of the Inclusion Coalition & Accord. Boorer says the whole profession will benefit by getting behind the DEI Strategy.
“Change does not happen overnight, and it does not happen without a collective drive. That is why the Inclusion Coalition is important, because it provides a long-term vehicle for the profession to mobilise around.
“The collision of diverse talent, thinking and inclusive culture will ignite innovation and the business models of tomorrow,” says Boorer.
Defining DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion
Catalina Colman, director of HR and Inclusion at US startup community Built In, says DEI is an ethos that recognises the value of diverse voices in an organisation.
More specifically, diversity refers to the presence of differences within a given setting, including race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomic class. It can also refer to differences in physical ability, veteran status or parenting status.
Equity is the process of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual.
Inclusion is the practice of ensuring people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, that every employee feels comfortable and supported by the organisation when it comes to being their authentic selves.
What did the CA ANZ survey tell us?
(CA ANZ) conducted its own inclusion and diversity research among members, with the help of independent research and insights company Kantar. Members of CA ANZ were invited to participate in the survey through direct email between 29 July and 26 August 2021.
CA ANZ received 2127 responses, which exceeded the minimum sample size required of 598 members, making it a statistically representative sample size. (At the total level, a sample of 2127 has a maximum margin of error of +/- 2.1%, while for Australia and New Zealand, this sits at +/- 3.0% and +/- 3.3%.)
CA ANZ received 1092 responses from Australia, 860 from New Zealand, 170 from overseas members and five from members who preferred not to state their location.
The research found that, overall, CA ANZ members’ experience on the inclusion index was just above the Australian norm for DEI. This was driven by strong results on people experiencing a sense of belonging and the absence of discrimination.
More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said that they believed their unique attributes, characteristics, skills, experience and background are valued by their company. Overall, 93% of respondents said they had not experienced discriminatory behaviour in the past five years (11% above the benchmark).
However, the survey did reveal instances of exclusionary and negative behaviour, including reports from some members that they feel unable to voice contrary perspectives, are undermined and excluded, or have experienced bullying or sexual harassment, and may consider leaving the profession.
It also found that women, members with disabilities, and members from the LGBTQIA+ community are far more likely to have had negative experiences. Half of all people who identified as LGBTIQA+ say they have been made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. For people with a disability, just over half (53%) reported being spoken over or not listened to in meetings.