Getting to Diversity 4.0

Try these strategies to move to the next level of diversity and inclusion.
By Courtney L. Vien

Hiring employees of varied backgrounds is an excellent first step toward diversity. But there's much more to diversity and inclusion than mere representation, Shirley Davis, Ph.D., explained in a webcast for the AICPA.

"You can bring in diverse talent, but that doesn't mean your culture embraces it," she pointed out. What organizations can strive to do, she said, is help employees feel included, respected, and empowered to participate equally in their success.

In the webinar, Davis, president and CEO of strategic development solutions firm SDS Global, described a continuum of diversity that organizations can use to track their progress. It has four stages, each defined by a motivation for pursuing diversity through inclusive practices:

  • Diversity 1.0: Organizations fulfill their legal obligations as equal opportunity employers but don't go far beyond that. It is associated with compliance.
  • Diversity 2.0: Organizations promote diversity because they feel it is the morally right thing to do. It is associated with social responsibility.
  • Diversity 3.0: Organizations strive for diversity because it contributes to business success by enabling them to become more competitive and relevant. It is also associated with becoming an employer of choice.
  • Diversity 4.0: Organizations want to become more diverse because it improves the way they work. It is associated with innovation, sustainability, and cultural competence.

Most organizations, Davis said, fall between Diversity 2.0 and 3.0.

To determine which stage they're in, she said, organizations can benchmark themselves against firms and companies of similar size or in similar industries, and ask themselves questions such as:

  • Do you have a definition of diversity?
  • Do you have a strategy or vision for diversity and inclusion?
  • Do people in your organization understand what diversity is and how important it is?
  • What's the business case for diversity in your organization?

Davis also recommended some ways organizations can move further along the diversity continuum:

  • Have a strategy. Define what "diversity and inclusion" mean to your organization, and then create goals for achieving both. Then, communicate that strategy so employees are able to articulate it.
  • Have top leaders commit to increasing diversity and inclusion. "I encourage organizations to create a diversity statement and build a diversity strategy, but also to make sure it's tied in to the organization's strategic plan," Davis said. Senior leaders, she said, can ensure the diversity strategy aligns with the organization's goals and objectives, and the commitments it makes to stakeholders.
  • Embed your diversity strategy throughout the organization. Your stance on diversity and inclusion, Davis said, can be reflected in areas such as recruitment, promotion, employer brand and marketing, communications, and service philosophy.
  • Have a person or group take ownership of the diversity strategy. Though, ultimately, diversity and inclusion are everyone's responsibility, Davis said, it's helpful to have an individual—such as a chief diversity officer—or group to shepherd your diversity and inclusion efforts. 
  • Publicize successes. "When you start doing some of this work, the way to progress is to ensure that you've got some wins under your belt and that the employees are embracing it," Davis said. "You need to communicate your successes to the organization."
  • Be accountable. "Accountability comes when you start to integrate diversity into not only your strategy, but into your policies, performance metrics, and bonuses," Davis said. You could then take stock, she said, by making diversity part of performance reviews or by having leaders meet to discuss it on a quarterly basis. You can also assess what progress you've made toward certain deliverables, such as crafting a diversity statement and having all employees sign it.

Access AICPA Diversity and Inclusion Resources to help assess your company's culture, and recruit and retain diverse talent.

Courtney Vien is an associate editor for magazines and newsletters at the AICPA.

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