Coaching cultures are inclusive cultures

We’re excited to hear a lot of talk about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in accounting firms around the world! Yet, the resounding theme we hear is, “This is hard!” Why does DEI feel so hard for accountants?

Fostering an inclusive culture can be especially challenging at accounting firms because we usually want to solve the problem right away (after all, it’s what we do best in our work!). We like to figure things out and get to the “right” answer. We may think the answer is to apply uniform treatment to people or challenges, so we create standardized formulas to achieve results.

Because of this, accounting organizations usually tend to focus on hiring and promoting diverse candidates (the D in DEI), but miss a foundational letter in the DEI equation – the I for Inclusion. An organization could hire and promote diverse candidates all day long, but if it doesn’t foster a sense of belonging for everyone, little progress can be made.

So, how do we create an inclusive culture that fosters a sense of belonging? We’re excited to connect some dots for you – a coaching culture is an inclusive culture! Following is an excerpt from a coaching toolkit we authored for AICPA in 2019 that demonstrates this:

An organization with a strong coaching culture is characterized by:

  • Leaders who hold a deep belief in the talents and resourcefulness of their team members and are committed to helping each individual unlock their unique potential.
  • High levels of trust and open communication. People feel heard and understood and do not shy away from challenging conversations.
  • An environment that supports direct, continuous feedback.
  • A growth mindset, in which challenges are welcomed as learning opportunities.
  • Comfort with ambiguity, embracing the power of a question and letting go of having to know all the answers.
  • High levels of engagement and collaboration between all employees.
  • A feeling of connectedness within the workplace. Each individual feels valued and respected for who they are and the contributions they make to the collective success of the organization.

A company with an inclusive (coaching) culture not only makes space for people of diverse backgrounds, genders, races and ethnicities, it actively seeks to create a sense of belonging for every human being in the organization.

How can you personally contribute to creating an inclusive, coaching culture? Start by creating psychological safety for others. Here are some ideas to explore and practice:

  • Encourage and model vulnerability. Get vulnerable first.
  • Expect and encourage others (and yourself!) to make mistakes and learn from them. This is how we learn and grow! 
  • Encourage people to show up authentically as themselves. Model this for others.
  • Get comfortable with discomfort. You will not always know the answers. Choose to be kind (speak up and speak the truth) instead of nice (which leads to silence and complicity).
  • Create authentic connection. Practice empathy. Listen to understand (rather than defend or respond) and honor another person’s perspective.
  • Get curious, and do the work. If someone expresses a problem or concern to you that you don’t understand, research it. Educate yourself until you do understand. Don’t expect others to do the work for you.

We’re thrilled that so many people are joining in the DEI conversation. Now, let’s start practicing inclusive leadership in our day to day lives.   


About the Author

Sarah Elliott, CPA, ACC believes the future of the accounting profession depends on our capacity to love. As the co-founder and principal of Intend2Lead, a leadership development firm, she coaches CPAs to access the possibility dimension: the place where fear is no longer the enemy.