Diversity & Inclusion: A Competitive Advantage

Diversity & Inclusion is no longer just a “nice to have” or a “feel-good initiative,” it’s a must-have in today’s world. And companies are catching on.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 87% of global businesses say D&I is an organizational priority. But many are left wondering just how to begin incorporating it at their companies.

Enter Linda Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, (the first) director of Diversity and Inclusion at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), Diversity and Inclusion committee member for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and new columnist for Corporate Learning Network.

Linda has been making great strides to enhance the importance of D&I at IMA, the worldwide association of accountants and financial professionals in business, and we’re honored to celebrate her for her efforts, learn about her successes and hear what advice she has to offer on this International Day of Cultural Diversity.

Q: How has your career path shaped who/where you are today?

A: My career began with the typical public accounting track, fulfilling my experience requirement for the CPA license by working at one of the large accounting firms, Arthur Young. (The firm is part of the merger that created the current firm EY.)

What initially attracted me to D&I, related to the accounting profession, is that the percentage of minority certified accounting professionals had not increased much since I obtained my bachelor’s degree in accounting in the mid - 80s.

IMA is no stranger to D&I though—our initiative has been in existence since 2015.

I was officially IMA’s Director of Technical Accounting Activities at the time the initiative began, but still expressed a desire to conduct outreach to faculty and students at colleges and universities that have diverse student populations I had a specific focus with outreach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The reason why this outreach has been important to me is that it doesn’t seem to be well known to students that they can take the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam prior to graduation.

I think that is a contributing factor towards the low percentage of certified minority accounting professionals as a lot of students are just informed of the public accounting career track.

It’s important to me to inform students of the many career paths they can pursue in management accounting.

Q: Aside from students entering the workforce, why do you think D&I is essential for global organizations?

A: Research has confirmed that organizations that embrace D&I have more of a competitive advantage than those that don’t have such initiatives in place.

Companies that recruit a diverse talent pool have a better chance at making more innovative, collaborative and effective strategic decisions for their different markets.

A diverse staff model works well at IMA as it ensures that the products and services offered are to the benefit of members from our various regions.

Q: How does your role elevate D&I and hold IMA accountable for change?

A: Research on companies that have been deemed successful with D&I initiatives are those that have a senior executive (i.e. VP or Director of D&I, Chief Diversity Officer, etc.) that manages progress with the initiative.

The timing of the appointment of Ginger White, COO at the American Accounting Association (AAA), as Board Chair and my transition into my new role was very synergistic as it positioned IMA as an organization that is making strong commitments from the top with D&I efforts.

There were also strong recruitment efforts among current Board members, chapter and council leaders and standing advisory committee members (especially the D&I Committee) to identify female and international volunteers to serve on IMA’s Global Board of Directors.

This resulted in an increase in leadership from 18 female leaders on the Board during the 2019 fiscal year to 22 female leaders for the 2020 fiscal year beginning July 1 2019; creating a 60%/40% split among male and female Board members.

Q: What is some advice you can share with other organizations that are looking to implement D&I initiatives?

A: Here are steps that I would recommend based on my personal journey with the development of IMA’s D&I initiative (I will go into further detail in a future article):

  • The first step for any initiative is to get buy-in from an organization’s senior leadership team. Although IMA is an organization that is staff driven, it was important to get buy-in from its Global Board of Directors.
  • Appoint or hire staff that can manage an organization’s D&I initiative. I was honored to be appointed as IMA’s first Director of D&I on July 1, 2018.
  • Develop a D&I steering Committee that can recommend programs that support an organization’s initiative.
  • Develop a diverse leadership pipeline for staff and volunteers.
  • Create a presence on the organization’s website for stakeholders to see a commitment towards D&I. A D&I statement or commitment should appear on the website that states an organization’s mission and goals related to D&I.
  • Identify training opportunities for staff and volunteers about various D&I topics (i.e. unconscious bias).
  • Identify organizations that have similar missions and goals and develop strategic partnerships accordingly. IMA has developed strategic partnerships with the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), the Association for Latino Professionals of America (ALPFA), and the Ph.D. project, a program that encourages minority doctoral candidates to pursue a Ph.D. in business disciplines.

Q: What are some of the challenges and milestones you’ve encountered when trying to implement D&I initiatives at IMA?

A: I’m fortunate to refer to more milestones than challenges, but I think the biggest challenge for any organization is understanding that it’s unrealistic to get 100% buy-in among staff with efforts related to D&I.

However, it is an initiative that should be available to staff that’s interested in embracing such programs. I’ll share more on my milestones and challenges in a future article as well.

Q: How does the Benchmarking Practices Subcommittee under ASAE’s D&I Committee measure D&I?

A: As a member of ASAE’s D&I Committee since February 1, 2019, I’ve been assigned to a benchmarking practices subcommittee to determine how ASAE’s members can be informed about its association index tool.

It’s a tool that members can use to rate its progress with D&I in all operational areas. The most critical areas to assess progress with a D&I initiative are HR hiring practices, development of educational opportunities and composition of organization’s Board of Directors. We’re still in the beginning stages of digging into this.

Q: What do you think D&I will look like in 10 years? What do you think your role will look like?

A: Like other initiatives, IMA’s initiative will continue to evolve as its membership continues to grow within the U.S. and international regions.

Currently, my interaction with international members and staff has been under an online platform. I’m hoping to see my role evolve where I have more direct interaction with our international stakeholders or have staff under my leadership at each region to focus on D&I initiatives.