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Celebrating Diversity During Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. In celebrating women in leadership and diversity of thought, IMA’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, writes about the common themes and challenges associated with diversity in leadership.

Companies these days often attribute their success in part to the development of diverse teams. Gender and ethnic diversity among leadership is important because it encourages diversity of thought. Organizations that don’t include diverse teams may be excluding themselves from developing great ideas or tactics in terms of how to move forward with a strategy. This is a key benefit of having diversity among staff.

One way that my company promotes diversity is by hosting Women’s Accounting Leadership Series (WALS) events, which feature female panelists from diverse backgrounds and at different stages of their careers. Our most recent event took place earlier this month, a few days before International Women’s Day. Four panelists (male and female) shared their experiences and talked about the challenges of working in both management accounting and the broader business world. These are the common themes that we discussed:

UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

Organizations still should look for the best candidate for a position, but oftentimes there may be an underlying bias that causes a tendency to hire “safer.” One speaker made a reference to a predominantly white male management team as a “male and pale” population. I thought that was a very interesting analogy, though I also understand the danger of having such an emphasis on ethnic diversity. Efforts to diversify the workplace should never result in fulfilling quotas.

SELF CONFIDENCE

One of the main discussions was that more women are not in leadership roles because they may not think they have the skillsets to even be considered for a leadership position. I often come across female professionals who are looking for opportunities, and they may shy away from applying for certain positions if they feel that they can’t check off every skill or requirement listed in the job description. They might not have the confidence to apply for positions for which they actually are indeed qualified.

MENTORSHIPS

Women can certainly gain encouragement from mentors. Generally speaking, female professionals need guidance from a mentor who has succeeded beyond the glass ceiling. Mentors can pass on their knowledge of how they have succeeded so that other women can take similar steps. Supporting each other (women-to-women mentorships) and embracing certain obstacles that they may have come across in their careers is essential for professional growth.

In our last column, we discussed effective methods to integrate D&I into a company’s culture. From my experience, programs that pair staff with senior leaders work very effectively.  Instead of being assigned a mentor, staff can select a mentor and create their own mentor/mentee relationship. This structure offers more flexibility in frequency of meetings and encourages collaboration in informal settings, such as going out for lunch or doing activities outside of the office.

I’m excited by how much we are moving toward a more equitable workforce and believe the momentum will continue.

What challenges have you experienced in your career? How have you achieved diversity of thought at your organization? How are you celebrating Women’s History Month? Let us know in the comments.

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