While accounting firms have started to turn a corner on recruiting more diverse candidates, smaller firms are struggling to keep up, or not bothering at all. For small firms looking to make a difference, persistence is key.
"It’s not a once-a-year plan," said Jessica Velazquez, managing partner and founder of Indiva Advisors, during a panel discussion on how small firms can improve diversity at the American Institute of CPAs' 2021 Engage conference in Las Vegas. "It’s frequent, it’s fluid, it’s changing. As firms are talking about this … it’s extremely important to have a plan and to execute on it, and [that it's] followed by your team members."
Panelists stressed the idea that in a small firm environment, diversity will not be fostered by a large, detailed effort that can be implemented in a big firm. For smaller businesses, diversity is advanced with a persistent attitude.
"The tone starts at the top," said Robert Allen, president of the Allen CPA Firm in Houston. "In a small firm, you have to make that a priority. Understand that diversity isn’t only beneficial to us personally, but also financially."
"We, as firm owners, need to start to get out of our comfort zone," said Timothy Watson, partner at Benford Brown & Associates in Illinois. "Really, it presents an opportunity … to expand the breadth of our recruiting effort and the pool of people we can hire. But we need to start before people attend college, or move from one firm to another. Start those relationships early so you have [diverse] talent when students are looking to get hired."
Panelists also stated the importance of firm mentorship programs, because as diverse candidates get hired, they "want to see professionals and mentors who look like them," according to Velazquez.
"You want to have a well-defined mentorship program, even if it’s kind of informal," added Watson. "You want to have regular evaluations, so staff knows where they are and firm leaders can track their progress. … Ask [staff] what they want their career goals [to be], so that they can mesh with the firm."
Above all, small firm owners need to know what they're offering diverse candidates if they want to recruit them.
"When you think about recruiting, it’s not that different from marketing your firm," said Watson. "So, we really need to do the same thing. We need to communicate why it’s a benefit to join our team."
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