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A Board Member’s Insights on D&I

By HARRY W. ZIKE
November 1, 2017
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Diversity and inclusion initiatives are a prime opportunity to set the tone at the top.

 

As a member of the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Global Board of Directors, I know that board responsibilities are many. But a board’s focus should always include keeping the company’s strategy relevant and on target, making sure the right people are in the right C-suite and board seats, and monitoring the company’s long-term viability and sustainability. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy is a key component of that long-term sustainability. In fact, when we expand our thinking about D&I from that of measurable statistics to an acquirable strategic skill set, D&I can become a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

 

By the numbers, what are some of the measurable benefits that D&I brings to an organization?

 

A number of published studies, such as “Why diversity matters” by McKinsey&Company (http://bit.ly/2yS7IpS) or MSCI’s “Women on Boards” (http://bit.ly/2l0hSyw), show that companies with significant D&I outperform their competitors on many fronts, including better earnings performance, market penetration, talent attraction, and leadership development, all of which contribute to the long-term sustainability of the organization. Thus, having the ability to attract and engage a highly diverse workforce that feels valued and included not only enhances the bottom line but also contributes to the development and long-term viability of the entire organization.

 

Given all those benefits, why is D&I still a challenge?

 

Most of the challenges stem from either a lack of knowledge or embedded beliefs. Both of these factors can translate into unconscious bias, which is the tendency to be influenced by stereotypes ingrained in us by our family, friends, environment, and personal experiences or even how we assimilate and digest social and news media. Biases are often difficult to unlearn. Nonetheless, unconscious bias is a trait we can change.

 

What is true D&I all about?

 

Let me first comment on what D&I isn’t. D&I isn’t only about optics. In other words, just because an organization may have established representation within a certain age, race, gender, color, orientation, or creed doesn’t mean it’s diverse or, more important, inclusive.

 

D&I is the understanding and acceptance of the way individuals think (diversity of thought), which is manifested by our internal willingness to listen to and understand individuals without prejudging their ideas, culture, history, experiences, motivations, aspirations, and so on just because of who they are.

 

How do I know if we’ve achieved D&I within my organization?

 

First, let’s be clear that D&I isn’t any single achievement but more of a continuum.

 

Having said that, an organization must have the people, policies, and procedures in place for this D&I continuum to become part of the company culture.

 

For example, when an organization recognizes the strategic importance of D&I, encourages an open dialogue on the topic, provides relevant training (especially on unconscious bias), and celebrates D&I successes through promotions, cultural events, societal involvement, and the like, then the organization is embedding this continuum into its culture and values. D&I begins with leaders who fearlessly challenge barriers to inclusion and who want to be held accountable. Said differently, D&I is best demonstrated when a company moves past the statistics and lives by its actions.

 

If I don’t do the company’s hiring, what can I do to support D&I?

 

Quite a bit. Educate yourself on what D&I really is, and self-assess your individual biases. Allow yourself to be challenged, and align with someone who is different from you. Embrace differences. Join an existing D&I initiative, or start a D&I initiative within your organization if one doesn’t exist. This is a great way to show your leadership skills.

 

What might management accountants suggest to their organization to improve D&I?

 

Start by measuring the tangible aspects of D&I like diversity in the senior leadership team (SLT) or board, and then move on to measuring the intangibles, which is where the real value can be seen. Measuring intangibles is no doubt difficult to do, but you can start with some basic questions: Do we have an adaptable product? Does each department have the diverse constituency to generate diversity of thought? Do the company stakeholders feel valued, included, respected, and empowered?

 

Of course, a scorecard also is needed because that can be used to show progress. Some measures could include:

 

  • How many board and SLT members are engaged in specific D&I initiatives?
  • Does the company have a robust pipeline of diversity talent from a myriad of sources?
  • Is the training program continuous?
  • How many external awards for D&I has the company won?
  • Can we say our board and SLT makeup are clear diversity differentiators from our competition?
  • Are the board and SLT incentivized for D&I?
  • Does the organization disclose diversity statistics?
  • Is there an identified Chief Diversity Officer and/or Lead Diversity Director?

 

How is D&I at IMA?

 

I think IMA has a good D&I track record at the board, management, and staff levels. It launched its first international chapter in Cuba in 1943, and the first IMA Student Leadership Conference was held more than 15 years ago. IMA named Pam Prinz Stewart its first woman Chair in the 1990s, and current San Diego-based IMA Chair Alex C. Eng hails from Canada and Hong Kong.

 

IMA has also continued to embed and prioritize D&I into its culture. For example, at IMA we have just expanded the number of members that can serve on our D&I Committee.

 

Additionally, IMA, through the D&I Committee staff liaison, Linda Devonish-Mills, has progressively reached out and formed alliances with the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). IMA has grown the size of its international staff and recruited board members from Saudi Arabia, India, and China over the past few years, and, as far back as 2007, offered the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam in the Chinese language. IMA also sponsors the Women’s Accounting Leadership Series and provides thought leadership on D&I topics in Strategic Finance.

 

What do you see as the future of D&I?

 

The need for leadership, dialogue, and actions on D&I will only increase, so it’s best to have a foundational yet adaptable D&I skill set.

 

 

Harry W. Zike is a member of the IMA Global Board of Directors and has also served on other public and private company boards in North and South America and in Europe. He has lived on two continents and worked in four and is currently the CFO of a New Jersey-based cleantech company. He can be reached at harryzike@gmail.com.
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