It is no secret that the tax and accounting industry has a talent shortage. According to this article, 81% of finance leaders say they have difficulty finding talent, 71% say recruiting is top of mind, and 50% say that lower-level talent is the hardest to find.
These trends are likely to stick around without some significant changes to the employee culture and engagement practices for accounting talent who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA) and for Gen Z entry level employees, which is the most diverse generation in American history and who “demand diversity and inclusion from their employers,” according to a recent Tallo survey of Gen Z workers.
Framing the multi-layered challenge
LGBTQIA professionals remain in the closet.
In the landmark study, Diversifying U.S. Accounting Talent, conducted by the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA) and IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), LGBTQIA professionals consistently reported that many professionals elect not to disclose sexual orientation or gender identification in the workplace. One of the key reasons is fear of negative career-related ramifications, including getting fired, which was still legal in 27 states until a U.S. Supreme Court decision in mid-2020. To underscore the point, Brad Monterio, Chief Learning Officer at CalCPA adds, “We don’t have exact numbers because people don’t feel safe necessarily disclosing that in the work environment. As a member of this community and someone who has worked in the accounting sector for 23 years, I know a handful of LGBTQIA CPAs in larger firms, and only two of them are ‘out.’ The others are not because of concerns over how that information could be used with respect to their careers.”
LGBTQIA leaders are invisible as role models.
If existing LGBTQIA leaders remain in the closet, there are no visible role models signaling to younger LGBTQIA accountants that they can succeed in the organization as their authentic selves. To underscore the point, “younger LGBTQIA interviewees, while acknowledging that they understood the challenges faced by more experienced LGBTQIA leaders, widely viewed these leaders’ lack of disclosure as a missed opportunity to serve as role models,” according to the CalCPA and IMA research.
LGBTQIA professionals perceive inequitable treatment and access.
Compounding the invisibility of senior LGBTQIA leaders and the fact that many LGBTQIA professionals remain closeted is the lack of access to sponsors and mentors, career-advancing work opportunities, and perceptions of bias. In fact, according to the CalCPA and IMA research, 50 percent of people who identify as LGBTQIA do not have equitable access to sponsors or mentors within their organization and 60 percent reported observing “Leaders demonstrating unfair prejudice or bias against persons who identify as LGBTQIA, which negatively affects promotion.”
Accounting employers already have a talent retention issue among LGBTQIA professionals.
According to Loreal Jiles, Director of Research at IMA and one of the leads on the CalCPA and IMA study, “much more likely than any other demographic group we studied, LGTQIA professionals make employment decisions based on an organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) practices, and one in five who identify as LGBTQIA report that a lack of equity and inclusion have contributed to them leaving the accounting profession altogether.”
Entry-level accounting talent demands diversity and inclusion from employers, especially for LGBTQIA+ talent.
According to this article from Deloitte, “Diversity matters to Gen Z workers through many dimensions, not just isolated to race and gender, but also related to identity and orientation.” Moreover, an increased number of employees from this generation identify as LGBTQIA. According to this Gallup survey, one in six adults in the US identifies as LGBTQIA, up from up from 4.5% in Gallup’s previous update based on 2017 data. Going one step further, they are willing to turn down job opportunities, if the “company does not have a clear record of promoting inclusivity and diversity,” according to this article.
Solutions for employers
Most tax and accounting employers already have initiatives around DE&I in place. To solve for the broader talent challenge, leaders are well-placed to build upon what they already have. Actions that can be taken now include:
Championing LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Individuals can champion inclusion by speaking up when observing what they perceive to be biased behavior. Practitioners and leaders alike can also make conscious, deliberate decisions to improve inclusivity proactively. This may manifest by intentionally using terms such as partner, spouse, we, and us instead of wife, husband, them, or they.
Implementing equitable DE&I practices
When implementing DE&I practices that promote equitable career advancement, leaders should assign people to clients, teams, and projects without favoritism, bias, or presumptions. Human resources and DEI-related policies should also consistently reward inclusion and penalize exclusion. Employers can innovate to offer structured programs that provide exposure to senior leadership activities to people of all backgrounds and establish formal follow-up processes to address microaggressions.
Maintaining the status quo will exacerbate the already tough talent challenges the tax and accounting industry is facing. Openness to new ways of working, thinking, and solving problems is a common narrative for the future success of the industry. Now, organizations need to extend this narrative in practice, to talent strategy and culture to avoid the current state, which is captured in the following quote from Jiles. “We struggled to find enough people that identify as LGBTQIA to interview and that speaks to the problem and the inclusion issue that we have as a profession. People weren’t willing, when we told them, ‘Your feedback will be anonymous and no one will know you participated.’ The response was still, ‘No. I’m not comfortable being interviewed.’ We need to cultivate an environment within our profession that reflects a true sense of belonging, which will, in many instances, relieve the pressure associated with the threat of bias-based treatment.”
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