Job Security Was Already Precarious For Individuals With Disabilities. Then COVID Hit.

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Before the coronavirus pandemic, Evelyn Ramundo was a secretary at a group home in New Jersey that is run by a nonprofit focused on housing and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Ramundo said she loved her job, where she’s worked for 14 years: “I’m very close with the co-workers.”

But then coronavirus hit the United States. Ramundo said she has been unable to go back to work since about February, and not knowing when she will be able to return and not getting to help people in the group home is frustrating. “I miss everybody,” she said. “I want to go back to work and make money and not be around the house as much.”

Ramundo, who is also the president of the advisory board of the New Jersey Statewide Self-Advocacy Network, which is comprised of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said her days look different now. She lives in a supervised apartment in a group home. She said her days consist of waking up, watching TV, and not doing much of anything. She can have family members visit in the backyard, but she can’t go anywhere with them or invite them inside.

Read the full article on HuffPost

 

 

13 Practical Ways To Help Employees Adapt To New Technology

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Tech continues to play a larger and larger role in businesses and industries of all stripes. As companies bring on more and newer technology to help improve productivity, employees who were initially trained on older systems or who are new to a higher-tech workplace may struggle to keep up or even resist using the new tech at all.

Giving your team the support they need to learn and leverage new tech is a win-win situation for everyone. Below, 13 members of Forbes Human Resources Council share tips for effectively introducing new tech tools to your team members.

Take a multi-pronged approach.

Implement a range of training systems, from written instruction to live video training, to accommodate different work styles and preferences. It’s important that executives lead by example by using the technology themselves and reminding employees of support and resources available on a regular basis. – Neha Mirchandani, BrightPlan

2. Create a sandbox for employees.

The one important strategy in any major wave of change is the willingness to create a sandbox for the employees. For any new tech—or non-tech—strategy to succeed, an appetite for and acceptance of failures and mistakes are required. People learn when they know their mistakes won’t cost them their jobs. They are more open to bigger challenges if there is an allowance for a learning curve. – Ruchi Kulhari, NIIT-Technologies

3. Implement annual skills evaluation.

Annual skills evaluation programs are a great way to keep employees engaged and motivated. Digital transformation requires core competencies for virtually any job to evolve. By evaluating skill levels and skill gaps, your organization can easily identify ways to ensure employees are keeping up with the competition. Employers must constantly update employee skills to match the pace of innovation. – Sameer Penakalapati, CEIPAL Corp.

Read the full article at  Forbes.

What To Look For In A Disability Organization

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There’s an important question that may get too little attention in the world of disability services, activism, and culture. If we really care about people with disabilities and disability issues, we should all do better than just tossing pocket change in every fundraising bucket we see, or signing up for every walkathon a coworker’s kid puts in front of us.

But how do we choose which disability-related causes and organizations to support? Some criteria are the same for any kind of charity or organization seeking voluntary support. Look for sound, transparent finances and accounting practices. Make sure they use funds to further an important mission rather than simply enriching top executives. Support organizations that give regular, readable reports of services provided, advocacy accomplishments, and goals achieved. Look for strong oversight by a genuinely representative Board of Directors or similar governing entity.

These are basic tips for choosing any charity or cause, for donations or for volunteering. But what other qualities should we look for specifically in disability organizations? Here are some criteria and questions to ask, and why they are important:

  • Medical research and treatment

This is the most traditional and well-known type of disability organization. Their goals are mainly to fund medical research into treatments and cures for specific disabling conditions, and in some cases to help provide some of those treatments to people with those conditions.

The closest thing to an original is the March of Dimes, started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to find a cure for polio. But the model continues, with some modernizing alterations, in the March of Dimes itself and in other legacy organizations like the Multiple Sclerosis SocietyMuscular Dystrophy AssociationUnited Cerebral Palsy Association, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Notably, many of these organizations are better known to the general public for their fundraising events, and less for the work they do.

  • Direct services

Most disability organizations provide at least some personal and material assistance directly to disabled people and their families. For some, direct service is the main focus. Services can include funding for adaptive equipment, paying for certain high-cost medical procedures, or enriching experiences like support groups and summer camps. In local chapters and offices, direct services may also include one-on-one information, counseling, and advocacy assistance to address disabled people’s everyday needs, concerns, and barriers.

Read the full article at Forbes.

So You Want A Diverse Workforce? Then Truly Welcome People With Disabilities

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About 1 in 4 Americans live with a disability. Here’s how organizations can become disability confident.

By now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in place for over 35 years and roughly 62 million adults in the United States live with a disability — that’s about one in four people.

Yet how many of us can honestly say we are confident when it comes to including persons with disabilities in our workplace culture?

 

(Image Credit – The Hill)
According to a report from the Return On Disability Group, although 90 percent of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4 percent consider disability in those initiatives.

To be clear, a disability-confident organization is one that puts policies and procedures into practice that ensure people with all types of disabilities are included equally. Similarly, a disability-confident employer thinks about the unique needs that may arise when designing their products, services, collateral, and even job descriptions.

In order to excel in today’s evolving marketplace, you must not only acknowledge the importance of persons with disabilities to your business but also embrace actions that support their success as both employees and consumers. Furthermore, persons with disabilities account for total disposable incomes of over $500 billion, so it’s critical to businesses to ensure that persons with disabilities feel welcome to apply and contribute to your existing team.

  1. Screen In, Not Out

Like any employer, you want the best person for the job. This means, you must be prepared to show your disability confidence by guaranteeing that persons with disabilities are truly welcomed — and that starts before the interview. This can only be done if you and your hiring team are committed to “Screen In, Not Out.” This important Inclusion-ism is literally an Human Resources litmus test.

Anyone who has ever attended a Human Resource course has been advised to screen out in order to minimize the number of resumes and to weed out less desirable applicants. There are two clear issues with this practice that disability confident employers need to consider; first, by choosing to screen out you are knowingly shrinking your applicant pool in a time when a different perspective could be crucial to your company growth. Secondly, the “screen out software” that is being used by larger businesses perpetuates unconscious biases that result in a lack of diversity among applicants and, ultimately, your team.

  1. Stay Curious

The second Inclusion-ism you will want to embrace, in support of more disability confidence, is to stay curious. In short, never assume that you know what is going on; by contrast, you should be genuinely open enough about the why and hear the reason without judgement. Instead of asking “what is wrong with you?” you may question, “Why does it seem that you are regularly late on Wednesdays?”

Often, the reason comes down to a simple issue requiring minimal accommodation. You may soon discover that this employee could be a top producer on your team (aside from being late on Wednesdays).

Bottom line: embracing a “stay curious” attitude means being open to and looking for ways of doing things. By encouraging your entire team to ask questions, listen, and observe with the primary goal of understanding any given issue, you are on the road to becoming disability confident.

  1. Win, Win, Win

In the 1989 publication: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective,” Steven Covey describes the significance of a win-win situation which leads to mutual benefit.

It is time to refresh that concept to gain relevance in today’s diverse workplace. This is where “Win, Win, Win” comes in. The fact is it takes three wins to be truly inclusive. When you promote a person with disability from within, the business wins (you’ve selected the best candidate), the individual wins (they receive an opportunity that less disability-confident employers may not offer), and the entire team wins (benefiting from an innovative and adaptable leader who has overcome barriers). Plus, there are significant benefits to your customers who may see themselves reflected in the diversity of your team!

As we all know, people living with disabilities are everywhere; at work, play, traveling, shopping — just like everyone else. The more we strive to be Disability Confident Leaders, the more we can be sure we are practicing from a true Win, Win, Win perspective!

Tova Sherman—a TED Speaker and thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in diversity and inclusion—is the award-winning CEO of reachAbility, an organization which provides supportive and accessible programs dedicated to workplace inclusion for anyone facing barriers. She is the author of Win, Win, Win! The 18 Inclusion-isms You Need to Become a Disability Confident Employer.

Read the original article at The Hill.

 

Why TV Writer Katherine Beattie Stopped Hiding Her Disability: ‘We Need Disabled People In All Levels’

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By Allison Norlian for Forbes.

These days, work looks a lot different for Katherine Beattie. A producer on CBS’s hit procedural drama NCIS: New Orleans, Beattie and the rest of her colleagues had to adjust their storytelling to fit Covid-19 protocols.

They now meet remotely to produce each episode of season 7 versus being on set. They are also shooting in fewer locations, with fewer action scenes, and mask-wearing is mandatory. The most significant change for Beattie, who has worked on the show since its inception in 2014, is not traveling to New Orleans to shoot.

Adjusting has been an arduous task for almost everyone involved – but not necessarily for Beattie, who has spent her entire life adapting to a world not built for her.

Beattie was born with cerebral palsy, a group of movement disorders impacting muscle tone and posture. CP happens as the brain is developing before birth and affects how a person’s brain communicates with their muscles. CP affects everyone diagnosed differently. For Beattie, having CP means tight muscles and getting tired quickly. She didn’t need mobility aids for much of her upbringing, but she has used a wheelchair full-time for almost eight years in her personal life. In her professional life, though, she’s only used a wheelchair for four years.

That’s because, for a while, she hid her disability.

Beattie, 34, grew up in Los Angeles County and was tangentially involved in the entertainment industry. Her

(Image Credit – Forbes)

father, who worked in politics, would often take political candidates to screenings of The Tonight Show, and sometimes Beattie and her twin sister would tag along.

Beattie loved being backstage and meeting the celebrities. At this point, she knew she wanted to work in television in some capacity, but it would take years before she realized she wanted to be a screenwriter. She eventually decided to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and majored in their Radio, Television, and Film program.

Through a contact at The Tonight Show, Beattie landed an internship at The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After graduation, in 2008, Beattie was offered a job at the show in their human-interest department. She assisted the producer with all non-celebrity segments. Beattie loved her coworkers and working for the show, she says, but she quickly found herself dissatisfied.

Read the full article at Forbes.

Simple Accommodations Lead to Workplace Success

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Ray Muro, PRIDE Industries employee, shows his workplace accomations in the company warehouse

Studies show that companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce benefit from greater employee retention and higher productivity rates. But some people think that accommodations are always expensive and complicated.

With just a bit of imagination and effort, any company can attract, accommodate, and retain highly productive employees.

At PRIDE, our 50 years of experience prove that accommodations don’t have to be costly or complex. Ray Muro is one example of an accomplished employee. Blind since childhood, Ray has worked as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop at U.S. Army Post Fort Bliss in El Paso. Among his many duties, Ray manages the store’s inventory, registers new customers, and organizes the supplies.

Ray is one of the shop’s most productive employees, consistently earning high praise from customers and fellow employees alike. The reasons for his success are no secret—Ray has arranged his work environment to accommodate his needs. With PRIDE’s support, Ray has used a few inexpensive tools and modifications to set himself up for success.

Before joining PRIDE, Ray earned an Associate degree in Human Services and Liberal Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Multi-Disciplinary Studies from the University of Texas, El Paso. Despite his qualifications and enthusiasm, Ray could not find a permanent job due to misconceptions about his disabilities.

Ray was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye disease common in premature babies. It causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina and can lead to blindness, as it did with Ray, who has been blind since childhood. Working-age adults with significant vision loss have a 30% employment rate.

PRIDE IndustriesHired as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop, Ray manages the inventory of parts such as paint or batteries, registers customers into the database, and categorizes new supplies. To master his position and make it easier for him to navigate the shop, Ray spent two weeks labeling everything with braille stickers to serve customers faster.

“When I attended college, I didn’t have access to braille books, so I had to use speech technology or a reader,” said Ray. “But braille often works better. It’s such a powerful tool to help people who are blind navigate the visual world.”

READ MORE… https://prideindustries.org/blog/becoming-the-shop-expert-rays-story/

3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

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By Sheryl Snapp Conner of Entrepreneur 

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create.

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs.

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.”

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

Continue to Entrepreneur.com to read the full article. 

Tips for Conducting Virtual Interviews with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Job Candidates

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A man with a headset conducting a job interview on his laptop.

By Susan Murad

With National Disability Employment Awareness Month just concluded, the Center on Employment at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is offering tips for employers conducting virtual interviews with deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that the usual approach to the interview process has been dramatically impacted, and many employers are turning to virtual platforms to conduct their interviews,” said John Macko, director of RIT/NTID’s Center on Employment.

Employers can ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates have full access to communication for a successful interview. Here’s how:

  • Avoid having bright lights or a window directly behind you that can create glare and cause eye strain for the candidate. Make sure there are no distractions in the background, as well.
  • If the candidate is not familiar with the platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.) used for the interview, allow them to perform a test connection to make sure the candidate can connect at the time of the interview.
  • Encourage the candidate to let you know if communication is unclear. Ask questions and clarify comments to ensure the candidate understands everything that is happening during the interview.
  • Use a dry erase board, writing tablet, chatroom, or comment feature to help clarify your communication.

Continue to  RIT.edu to read the full article.

Rehiring the Smart Way: Mainstreaming Disability in Recruiting Strategies

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By Tamala Scott

As we envision a return to normal following the pandemic, many businesses find themselves in a position of having to rehire staff to ramp back up to pre-COVID productivity and revenue.

While traditional sourcing strategies—such as online job boards, newspaper ads, staffing agencies— may secure employees in the short-term, your recruiting strategy may be missing the mark in reaching a valuable yet untapped resource—job seekers with disabilities. This article will shed light on the multiple advantages that businesses gain from hiring people with disabilities, beginning by dispelling three of the most common myths that deter businesses from actively recruiting jobseekers with disabilities. We also offer a few key strategies on how to get started on your inclusion journey.

Cost. The first and perhaps most insidious myth is that hiring people with disabilities is a costly practice. The Job Accommodation Network has surveyed nearly 3,000 employers since 2004 to ask them about their accommodation practices and costs. Nearly 60 percent of all of those surveyed have reported reasonable accommodation costs of $0 for their employees with disabilities, while the remaining respondents report an average cost per individual of $500 or less. The same study also lists numerous cost-saving benefits for providing a streamlined and comprehensive reasonable accommodation strategy, including employee retention, increased employee productivity and improved workplace safety.

Productivity. Another misconception is that employees with disabilities are less productive than their peers. One of the country’s leading disability-inclusive employers, Walgreen’s, conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of its disability hiring strategy within its distribution centers. Among the three areas the study examined was the productivity, safety and turnover among its staff with and without disabilities. The study concluded that Walgreens’ employees with disabilities typically outperform or perform at the same level as their colleagues without disabilities, while also experiencing less safety-related incidents and remaining in their positions for longer.

On a macro-level, disability-inclusive companies are also proven to perform better than their industry counterparts. A landmark study conducted by Accenture in 2018 shows that businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusion within their workforce outperform their industry peers and are better able to respond to business challenges.

Difficulty finding talent. The labor force with disabilities has historically been—and remains—underemployed relative to the overall national labor force. The unemployment rate among jobseekers with disabilities is 1.5 times that of jobseekers without disabilities. Despite recent data showing a narrowing employment gap between graduates with and without disabilities, graduates with disabilities report that they are more likely to get part-time or temporary positions and earn on average less than their peers without disabilities. Qualified talent is out there, but due to the barriers to employment, many of these jobseekers with disabilities remain invisible to employers that could benefit immensely from their skill.

For the first time in history, business leaders are realizing that hiring jobseekers with disabilities is not simply the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for their business. Despite that, many businesses get stuck trying to figure out where to start in their disability inclusion efforts. Here are some achievable steps to getting YOUR business started on a path to a stronger and more inclusive diversity strategy:

Create a group of champions. As a first step, establish a core group of passionate individuals within your business that are willing to dedicate time and resources toward advancing your initiative. This group should include people from a variety of different departments and leadership levels within the company so that there are as many diverse perspectives and skillsets represented as possible.

Cultivate buy-in. Creating a disability-inclusive workplace requires that changes be made to an organization’s culture, operations, recruiting and hiring practices, and many other facets. Now that the business case has been made, your champions need to create an airtight pitch and messaging campaign to inform staff and leadership at multiple levels of the “how” and the “why” to have a disability-inclusive workplace.

Develop partnerships with local and national disability organizations. Once your internal support is secured, the next step is to seek out the expertise from local and national disability agencies to familiarize yourselves with the local disability community and find that aforementioned talent. Establishing your business as a disability-inclusive employer to the surrounding disability community is an important step toward getting individuals with disabilities to join your team.

Start small. It is important to keep an eye on the big picture and how to fold disability inclusion into multiple facets of your organization, but it is even more important to start small to develop a sound strategy that can be scaled in the future. Start small and aim for small wins before scaling.

Thinking about starting a disability hiring initiative? Contact The Arc@Work.

Digital Accessibility: Why It’s More Vital Than Ever

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By Elizabeth Stephen, VP of Customer Engagement at Striata, The Americas

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 achieved what years of lobbying and education has not—convincing organizations of the importance of making sure digital assets, like websites, emails and mobile apps, are easy to use and simple to navigate.

With the sudden upswing in digital demand and the almost overnight disappearance of physical interactions, it’s become clear how someone who cannot leave their home is forced to rely on digital channels, and how frustrating it is for them if those digital channels are not optimized for accessibility. This is a regular experience for people living with disabilities and COVID-19 has forced people to have empathy for those with the need for digital access.

Making online content more accessible means ensuring that all people can read and understand it—taking into account any disabilities they may have or assistive devices they could be using to access it. This includes those with disabilities such as impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing. In fact, stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 61-million (or 1 in 4) adults in the US have some form of disability.

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation and with it, the need for digital accessibility. People with disabilities, who previously may have relied on physical interactions (when shopping, banking etc.), are now also being forced to interact via digital channels instead. It is therefore imperative that organizations consider this segment. They can start by assessing the accessibility level of all their digital content and changing the copy as well as layout/design where necessary. Taking these steps will not only ensure that digital content can be consumed and understood by all, but that it also complies with accessibility laws.

Some common accessibility standards include ensuring websites and emails are easily navigable on a mobile device or via keyboard only and creating PDF documents that can be read by screen readers by avoiding text with a poor color contrast.

Before the pandemic hit, while physical interactions were still acceptable and in-store visits more common, email was already a popular communication channel for many consumers and businesses alike. Now, with the recent, sudden, and unprecedented restrictions of movement imposed by governments across the globe, companies have been forced to adjust their communication or risk losing touch with customers.

It is not surprising that a large number of companies turned to email as the channel of choice to reach out to customers with information about their business continuity plans.

The result was a deluge of emails from brands wanting to make contact with customers and reassure them that new, digital ways of applying, buying and transacting would return things to business as usual. But if customers aren’t able to access those emails in spite of their disabilities, there can be no “business as usual.” Fortunately, a report from Level Access shows that 67 percent of US-based businesses felt compelled to implement inclusion to be truly inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile, some 45 percent implemented a standard, organizational-wide approach to accessibility. They could do far worse than to start with email.
The pandemic has emphasized the undeniable value of these communications, and as the value of email is a channel for everyone, it makes sense for organizations to put energy into making email accessibility a key focus in their digital accessibility strategy.

Elizabeth Stephen is the VP of Customer Engagement for the Americas, overseeing all commercial business and channel management in North and South America. For the past decade, Liz has managed teams of sales groups both nationally and internationally. She has a true passion for helping customers identify their needs and consulting with them to help fill those needs. Since joining Striata, Liz has taken a keen interest in Customer Communications Management (CCM) and helping clients utilize digital communications to meet their CX goals.

Cultivating a ‘Deliberately Diverse’ Approach in Accounting & Advisory Fields

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By Joanne Cleaver

Grant Thornton, the northern Virginia office of international accounting and advisory firm, had a problem.

The office is located in the Washington, D.C. metro, one of the most racially diverse areas in America, with an especially strong representation of Black professionals.

And, many of the firm’s clients were government agencies or top-tier suppliers to government agencies—two types of organizations highly attuned to racial diversity.

Carlos Otal, head of the office and managing partner for Grant Thornton’s public sector services and solutions practice, knew that clients expected more than a reflection of their own diverse staff. They expected Grant Thornton to live up to the diversity priorities it stated in its website and pitch materials.

But how would the firm foster diverse client engagement teams when the accounting and advisory profession was, and is, overwhelmingly white and male?

By cultivating a ‘deliberately diverse’ approach to assembling teams.

Otal “cracked the code” by figuring out the key dynamics of how diverse teams deliver on the diversity promise of better ideas and greater innovation to elevate client service. Then, he aligned the process of picking teams to ensure that no demographic dominated. That shifted the group dynamic: when each individual operated in his or her own strength, free from the expectation of representing their identity, the group quickly recognized each member’s strengths and contributions. Those strengths combined in fresh ways to bring clients new ideas and solutions.

Thanks to ongoing research by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, accounting and advisory firms have a deep well of diversity best practices to draw on, from Grant Thornton and other leading firms. The AFWA’s reports illustrate to W/MBE’s how firms are pursuing diverse talent and suppliers.

The accounting and advisory profession lags when it comes to diversity.

Blacks are significantly under-represented in the accounting and advisory profession, at only 3 percent of employees. Hispanics comprise 6 percent of employees; Asians, 11 percent; and biracial employees, 4 percent, while Native Americans are virtually absent, according to the 2020 Accounting MOVE Project, an annual research and advocacy effort that measures and supports the advancement of women and women of color at CPA firms. It is produced by content firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., in partnership with the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.

As accounting and advisory firms seek new avenues for growth, they are realizing that diverse talent drives innovation, and innovation is what clients want when they hire a pricey firm to guide them through new market and financial opportunities.

Otal’s lightbulb moment pivoted on changing the definition of “meritocracy.” CPA and advisory firms tend to believe that billable hours create meritocracy, in dollars and culture. But sustainable firm success is grounded in client relationship skills, business development and talent growth—characteristics that are not easily quantified and that often don’t fit into the billable hours construct.

As Otal worked with leaders in his office, the team realized early on that they needed to diversify the office’s talent pipeline from the bottom up and to change the culture at midlevel from the outside in.

And retention pivoted on changing how professionals defined success. “You can’t just say you want diversity,” Otal says. “You have to be intentional. We use metrics and data to tell you who is doing what. But then we spend a lot of time looking beyond the data. What are the impacts this person has made beyond the hours billed and the sales numbers? “

Otal realized that young professionals need to see a wider spectrum of leadership styles, backgrounds, and career paths. That’s how the office’s “bottom up” strategy intersected with its “outside in” strategy. Otal’s team sought midcareer recruits with a wider range of ethnic and personal backgrounds. The Alexandria office has now pulled ahead of national benchmarks for racial diversity.

“We’ve realized we have to be even more intentional about diversity when we have even more data. Sometimes you say, ‘It’s not if this person gets promoted. It’s when,’” says Otal. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and promote this person. We know we want to. When we’re intentional about diversity, it changes the dynamic. Then that changes the data,” he said, referring to employee demographics.

At Grant Thornton’s Alexandria office, greater racial and gender diversity changed the way teams collaborated and solved problems. And that showed young professionals that the firm was capitalizing on diversity—and that their own varied perspectives were essential for their career success.

This article is based on the 2019 CPA Firm Diversity Report. Find more trends and tools for working with leading accounting and advisory firms at the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance website: afwa.org/move-project/

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