CFMA's The Why Behind Diversity & Inclusion

During CFMA's 2021 Hybrid Conference & Exhibition, we hosted a panel discussion on "The Why Behind Diversity & Inclusion," moderated by Victor Sturgis, CPA, CCIFP, Tax Senior Manager and Racial Equity Fellow with Crowe LLP. Joining him included panelists Brittany Diederich, Director of Finance and Administration at Industrial Builders Inc; Rachel Hudson, Performance Success Manager at BKD CPAs & Advisors; Willy Pegues IV, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at McCownGordon; and Simeon Terry, Vice President of Diversity Affairs at Austin Commercial.

The discussion began with "The Rules of Engagement," which is how CFMA’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee starts off each meeting. This helps to level-set those present and help them to achieve the right mindset for difficult and sometimes personal conversations regarding the subject of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I).

The Rules of Engagement

  1. Assume Positive Intent
  2. Engage in Dialogue, Not Debate
  3. Hold Yourself and Others Accountable for Demonstrating Cultural Humility
  4. Be Open, Transparent, and Willing to Admit Mistakes
  5. Embrace the Power of Humble Listening
  6. Create Trusting and Safe Spaces Where a Little Bit of Discomfort is Okay
  7. Commit to Having Conversations that Matter by Speaking up to Bridge Divides
  8. Suspend Your Right to be Offended
  9. Look for an Opportunity to be Second
  10. Your Voice is Important. Ensure that it's Heard

Once these rules were laid out and the panelists introduced themselves, the term "DE&I" was defined as:

Diversity: Represents the individual differences, ideas, perspectives, experiences, skills, and talents that make up your organization.

Equity: A progress of acknowledging the existence of advantages and barriers, and continuing to correct and address the imbalance in order for all individuals in your organization to succeed.

Inclusion: Embraces those differences which allow organizations to achieve a higher level of performance.

Different ideas around a DE&I strategy were shared, with Terry offering what Austin Industries is doing to provide a greater focus on inclusion rather than diversity. He explained that having an inclusive culture allows your organization to maximize diversity and equity capabilities resulting from inclusiveness. Terry’s organization goes an additional step by using the DE&IA strategy, in which the “A” stands for access. This term ensures everyone has the same access to the same resources and opportunities so that the company culture remains consistent throughout the program's life.

Hudson added that research shows feeling excluded provokes a physical response that is very similar to pain, proving that having a sense of belonging is a human need. Often, this feeling of belonging to a community is the end result of many DE&I objectives and contributes to the business case for DE&I. A study conducted by BetterUp and Harvard, found that employees who felt a strong sense of belonging demonstrated a 50% reduction in turn-over risk, a 56% increase in performance, and a 75% decrease in sick days. Per the study’s calculations, for a 10,000 person company, this would correlate with an annual gain of over 52 million dollars from boosting productivity.

The panelists shared the "why" of DE&I and how it has personally impacted them, both positively and negatively, including Diederich’s experiences as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in the construction industry. Additionally, the panel shared some of the strategies and approaches their companies have implemented for recruiting diverse talent and the importance of showing efforts through numbers reflecting their actions rather than statements alone, such as:

  • Being supportive of ethnic or community world issues that may impact an employees’ mental health in such a way that they feel supported, heard, and understood.
  • Paying attention to your managers: how they act and what they say regarding DE&I topics and issues. Hold them accountable for the behaviors you want to build, because they are building your culture!
  • Creating trust and safety within your organization to share ideas, perspectives, and challenges.
  • Partnering with school districts to implant the idea of construction jobs to students of all ages, backgrounds, and gender.

Advice for best practices to help organizations on their DE&I journey was provided by panelists, with an emphasis on creating alignment and support between teams and leaders, in addition to publicly showcasing your company as an ally for diversity and inclusion. Some practices included:

  • Learning how to say “I don’t know” when it comes to others experiences, but to still show understanding, empathy, and a willingness to listen.
  • Learning how to become “comfortable being uncomfortable” in effort to make progress in diversity.
  • Speaking up when the Rules of Engagement are not being followed.
  • Speaking in language that is aligned with your company’s leaders and the “Why” behind DE&I from a business perspective in addition to HR practices.
  • Publicly supporting organizations or events that supportive diverse communities.

To learn more, watch the full video with the panelists’ advice, experiences, and best practices below.