5 Critical First Steps to Launch Your DEI Initiatives

 – January 17, 2022
5 Critical First Steps to Launch Your DEI Initiatives

While many organizations have prioritized meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, some still struggle to fully understand what it entails and the full significance of how important it is to business.

Leaders at smaller organizations especially might be more apt to avoid conversations around diversity or feel it’s an issue for larger firms and corporations. If this is you, you’re not alone! But this could be costing you more than you realize.

Why diversity matters

It’s simple: diversity is good for people and business. A 2015 McKinsey study found that companies who ranked in the top 25 percent for racial diversity were more likely to have higher financial returns than the median for their industry, while those in the bottom 25 percent were more likely to fail at achieving above-average earnings. Overall, they report:

“More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns. This in turn suggests that other kinds of diversity—for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency)—are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain such diverse talent.”

Diverse teams are also a reflection of a shifting culture and dynamic within the U.S., especially when it comes to racial and ethnic identity. But while an organization may have a diverse workplace, it doesn’t mean DEI work isn’t important.

Effort is still needed to make sure your organization’s culture is inclusive, equitable, safe, attracts and retains talent, and creates opportunity for all. It’s also important for helping to break down greater systemic barriers and biases.

Are you ready to take action? Here are five critical first steps to beginning your personal and organizational DEI work.

1. Start with why

Why does your organization want to engage in a DEI initiative? If your first instinct is to answer “because I know we should,” it’s time to dig deeper. Yes, DEI work is critical and will likely directly impact the future of your organization. But “should” is never a good foundation on which to build an initiative.

Forming a business case for diversity that defines your purpose for engaging in DEI efforts is one of the first steps you should complete as an organization. This involves aligning your overall business goals with your DEI goals, as well as identifying and engaging key stakeholders.

2. Build your DEI vocabulary

There are countless terms to understand within your DEI work. The following terms are five of the most basic and important for building your foundation:

  • Ally. An individual of one identity group who takes action to advocate, support, sponsor, and champion those in another group. Allies should be both proactive and reactive, their actions promoting change to systemic structures while also supporting individuals when targeted.
  • Diversity. A spectrum of differences and similarities within groups of people. These differences and characteristics can be both visible and less visible, including:
    • Racial and ethnic identity
    • Gender identity
    • Sexual orientation
    • Age and experience level/tenure
    • Education level
    • Ability
  • Equity. Fair access to opportunities and advancement. This requires both acknowledging barriers to access, including those in your workplace and in the larger society, and working to eliminate those barriers. 
  • Inclusiveness. The act of including all individuals and creating a general sense of belonging. Diversity is not complete without inclusiveness.
  • Privilege. When a group of people or an individual within that group receive an advantage simply because of their status. This can be a special right or an immunity, as well as increased access to opportunities.

As you build a deeper understanding and vocabulary within the DEI umbrella, remember to make an effort to cover the spectrum of diversity. Learn more terms in the AICPA Diversity and Inclusion Glossary.

Set goals and assess your progress

You can’t determine where you’re going without first understanding where you are currently. Take the time to work through the state of your organization to assess where you are and where there’s room for improvement. 

  • Examine your data. What is the current diversity breakdown of your organization? What about within the leadership team? Where are opportunities for growth?
  • Look at your recruitment efforts. Where are you recruiting? Are you seeing diverse individuals applying for positions? If so, are they receiving interviews and offers? Are there opportunities to reduce/remove bias in your hiring process? 
  • Listen to your team. Create opportunities for your employees to provide feedback in a safe environment.
  • Take the assessment. The AICPA’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model was developed to measure efforts and competencies in four areas: workplace, workforce, marketplace and supplier, and community. Get started here.

Reviewing and answering these critical questions is just the beginning. Once your assessment phase is complete, prioritize creating clear goals and metrics that are actionable and will address areas of concern you’ve identified. Without these goals you’re unable to develop a path toward and track progress as an organization.

It’s also important to remember this phase, as well as many others within DEI work, can be challenging on both a personal and organizational level. At times it might mean acknowledging historical shortcomings, failings and unconscious biases. This can be uncomfortable but is crucial for growth. 

Lead with communication 

It’s critical your leadership team is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Without this buy-in, these efforts are doomed to fail. One way to avoid this is through regular communication with team members and stakeholders. 

When you’re just starting out with DEI work, it’s important to take time to communicate your vision, goals and business case for diversity. As you move forward, regular communication becomes important for creating a culture of accountability and making sure your words translate into tangible action. Remember, saying you’re invested in DEI and doing DEI work are two different things. Organizations who communicate without follow-up will fall behind colleagues who do meaningful work. 

Sign the CEO pledge

Join leaders from top organizations across the country in signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ pledge.

This initiative, which prioritizes action, says your organization is committed to creating a trusting space, invested in unconscious bias education, and more. When you sign, you’ll also receive access to free resources that will help you live up to your pledge. Get started here.

No matter where your organization is on its DEI work, there’s always opportunity to continue learning and supporting.


Reprinted with permission of the Indiana CPA Society.