Technology has changed the landscape of business, bringing the world closer together, adding a layer of diversity, blurring borders, and altering the way people communicate. The working population is also more diverse, bringing together those with different perspectives and ideas. With all of these changes, public accounting firms and other organizations must try to stay ahead of the curve by offering new products and services to not only grow, but stay afloat.
"The world is extremely diverse," said Mark Brooks, associate director, innovation and strategic partnerships at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. "You've got hundreds of different languages and religions and backgrounds on this planet, and the accounting profession services and engages with every one of those. The profession itself has to be diverse to adequately respond, and be proactive to the needs of clients and employers."
This was the topic broached Jan. 17 by Brooks and Kim Drumgo, director, diversity and inclusion at the Association, during their one-hour webinar, "Driving Innovation Through Inclusion." Their talk, which touched on racial, cultural, and neurodiversity, was the first of a three-part Diversity & Inclusion webcast series to be aired by the Association.
Brooks's and Drumgo's main premise was that innovation and diversity are inseparably linked, and that inclusion — leveraging the diversity within an organization — is necessary for today's firms and companies to compete and thrive.
In the webcast, they defined innovation as creating value, making a new product or service, or doing something in a new way — and taking these actions before your organization becomes stale or obsolete. As an example, Brooks said technology giant Apple Inc. has been innovative time and again, first with the iPod, then the iPhone, and most recently, the Apple Watch. "The idea of innovation is to create these new curves of growth" before hitting a plateau, he said.
Inclusion allows voices to be heard within an organization; enhances engagement; creates an atmosphere of fairness, respect, and a sense of belonging; and instills confidence in employees from all different backgrounds, noted Drumgo. "Diversity is being asked to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance," she said.
"Work environments that foster a culture of inclusion reap the benefits of a workforce that thrives in innovation and creativity," said webcast host Anthony Newkirk, Ph.D. "When employees feel valued, regardless of their differences, they are energized to contribute their ideas and perspectives in a way that they cannot in environments that do not foster inclusion."
Inclusive environments, he added, "give people social permission to be and think differently. This leads to tremendous innovation … and great business success."
Diverse teams, Drumgo noted, foster creativity and innovation and careful thinking. "Including those various backgrounds in our day-to-day decisions is critical to the longevity of a CPA firm's success," she said.
In addition, employees who have neurological disorders, such as autism, may have difficulty in social settings, but they often excel at innovation, said Drumgo, citing a 2017 study by EY. These individuals often have great technical talent and are detail-oriented, "with strong skills in analytics, mathematics, pattern recognition, and information processing — among the very skills businesses most urgently need," the study reported.
Finally, Drumgo cited Deloitte's six traits of inclusive leadership, as tips for driving innovation through inclusion in your organization: "Be curious. Be culturally intelligent. Be collaborative. Be committed. Be courageous. And be cognizant," she quoted.
"Being curious is fundamental to getting to know other people and other cultures," she said. "Be cognizant in a way that you recognize your own biases and work to get past them. And be committed to your people and to inclusion and innovation."
Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, JofA senior manager of newsletters.