The Myths of Diversity & Inclusion

Every day there is more conversation about diversity and inclusion in the accounting profession.  The AICPA formed the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion[1]  to begin looking at ethnic diversity which is only one aspect of diversity.  The AICPA has also had a focus on gender diversity for over thirty years which continues with the Women’s Initiative Executive Committee. [2]  A growing percentage of individual accounting firms have a focus on some aspects of diversity. Many of these firms begin with gender diversity and then move to broader diversity and inclusion such as ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, generation and more.

Any discussions regarding the challenges of diversity whether in relation to the profession overall, one firm, department and/or team can be very difficult for leaders and team members to tackle. One of the first steps is basic education and awareness regarding what this is and is not about.  Let’s look at some common myths:


MYTH #1-Diversity is about women and minorities.  Reality:Diversity is about all of us.  Every person represents multiple aspects of diversity which are as simple the differences and similarities between you and I.  Diversity is variety.

MYTH #2-Diversity is about discrimination.  Reality: While some organizations will take a legal based approach to diversity, it is not inherently about discrimination. It is more often about adverse impact which is the impact of cultures which were built by a majority group and now increasingly diverse. The norms of the majority group create a culture where those not of this group experience the environment differently than those who originally created it.

MYTH #3-Diversity and Inclusion are two words that mean the same thing.  Reality:Diversity is variety.  Inclusion is being a part of something.  Each person may define differently what it means to “be included”. Some organizations define inclusion as leveraging the parts of the whole, said another way- maximizing the potential of all.

MYTH #4-Diversity and Inclusion is about promoting people who are not qualified.  Reality:This is one of the most prevailing myths and misperceptions about what it means to move down a path of exploring improved diversity and inclusion. There are differences in the ways in which individuals experience the culture of any organization.  Understanding how the culture is resulting in an uneven playing field so that everyone has access to the same opportunities is the goal.  Much of what an organization learns in this journey is invisible at the start, even to those with the very best of intentions and greatest of concerns.  Uncovering these hidden cultural attributes, individual perceptual filters and yes –unconscious bias- is the essence of the journey that must be taken.  Believing there is no unconscious bias in your organization is a sign that education and awareness is urgently needed.  In best practice approaches standards are not lowered.  If standards are not in alignment with the current responsibilities of roles, and/or if the norms of the organization impact various groups of people differently, then these must be changed.

MYTH #5-Organizations pursue Diversity and Inclusion because they have a legal issue or because they are trying to be politically correct. Reality: Organizations pursue a strategy of diversity and inclusion in order to support sustainable growth.  This is particularly urgent in the accounting profession which is very far behind the changing demographics of the United States relative to all aspects of diversity. The accounting profession is facing a perfect storm of unprecedented retirements, increased demand for talent, and record turnover. All talent is needed and must be attracted, retained and their potential maximized if the profession is to maintain its sustainability. Research shows that organizations with greater diversity at the leadership level produce stronger financial results.[3]

MYTH #7-We have no challenges, issues or warning signs in our firm. Reality: Take a close look at your firm and its culture.  Individuals who represent various types of diversity are few? Are not represented at all levels of the organization? Are not being recruited in equitable numbers? Turnover among some groups of people is higher than others? Promotion rates among some groups of people are lower than others? Salaries among some groups of people are lower than others? There are differences in employee engagement among individuals who represent some aspect of diversity? Challenges regarding diversity and inclusion are not discussed openly?  Is it time to get started preparing your firm for a future that is already here?


[1] AICPA – AICPA National Commission on Diversity & Inclusion

[2] AICPA – Women in the Profession

[3][3] Is there a payoff from top-team diversity? | McKinsey & Company

About the author

Mary BennetMary has spent the majority of her career as a partner in a top ten firm.  Mary now works as a consultant to public accounting firms in all areas related to organizational development and effectiveness.  Mary’s expertise includes diversity and inclusion, executive coaching, business performance, and leadership development as well as many other areas of organizational effectiveness.

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