The Journey to Inclusion Recap

CFMA's October 27 webinar, The Journey to Inclusion, featured a return of the Hybrid Conference panelists from the discussion on "The Why Behind Diversity & Inclusion." Previous moderator Victor Sturgis, CPA, CCIFP, Tax Senior Manager and Racial Equity Fellow with Crowe LLP, moderated once more for this webinar! Joining him were panelists Willy Pegues IV, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at McCownGordon; Simeon Terry, Vice President of Diversity Affairs at Austin Commercial; Brittany Diederich, Director of Finance and Administration at Industrial Builders Inc; and Rachel Hudson, Performance Success Manager at BKD CPAs & Advisors.

This hour-long session answered questions from the Hybrid Conference, including revisiting and expanding upon topics of education and advice for implementing D&I within a work environment. After a brief overview of the topics to be covered, the session began with the Rules of Engagement and jumped right into the first topic of questions.

Listening and Having Uncomfortable Conversations

In a poll, attendees were asked why they feel uncomfortable talking about Diversity and Inclusion at work. Among the answers available, 58% of attendees chose, "I'm afraid that I'm going to say the wrong thing." Victor pointed out that everyone involved agrees to suspend the right to be offended and assume that everything said is coming from a positive, well-meaning place when the Rules of Engagement are enacted. The question was then posed to Brittany on how she becomes "comfortable with the uncomfortable." She explained that using the Rules of Engagement has been a "game-changer" for having difficult conversations. She did go on to admit, however, that even she still struggles not to feel uncomfortable during difficult conversations, but that "sometimes, it's worth it to be a little uneasy."

Rachel agreed and noted that having uncomfortable conversations is a skill, and there are many challenging topics to navigate in our current culture that are very emotionally charged. Before stepping into a difficult conversation, she suggested to reflect on why you feel uncomfortable: is it a difference in viewpoint or your emotional response? Willy added that the more you challenge yourself with uncomfortable conversations, the more comfortable you'll become over time as you grow in your understanding of others and yourself.

Victor then took the scenario a step further by asking the panelists how to approach an uncomfortable conversation. Brittany compared it to the "snowball effect" in that issues will only worsen the more you ignore it, so it is best to address it early. Simeon agreed and told the group that in his personal experience, he tries to be in a receptive frame of mind to keep the conversation open and a two-person collaboration, rather than merely trying to get a point across. Being genuine, Willy added, is also a key component, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the conversation and not aiming to be the smartest person in the room, stating, "It is ok to admit ignorance."

Learning: Resources for Diversity and Inclusion

The discussion then shifted to the next topic regarding educational resources. Victor once again led with a poll question: "What resources do you leverage to learn about diversity and inclusion?" 36% of attendees selected Human Resources for Diversity Associations, 33% chose CFMA, 27% selected Other, and 5% selected Other Industry Associations.

Victor then asked the panelists how their own unique life experiences have shaped their perspectives and viewpoints. Learned empathy, empathy gained through similar struggles, is how Brittany taught herself to relate to another person or group's issues, even if they weren't a replica of her own experience. Rachel added that while many people speak about the golden rule ("treating others the way you want to be treated"), there is also the less discussed platinum rule; treating others how they want to be treated. She pointed out that an inclusive workplace isn't merely a shared viewpoint or experience but one where opinions and ideas can be shared openly and safely.

Becoming Leaders for Diversity and Inclusion

The final topic revolved around leading for diversity and inclusion. Willy opened the discussion by stating that several research studies have shown that D&I can benefit organizations, but it's also important to decide what D&I is, its benefit, and "the how" of D&I. He also spoke of making it a company value rather than a priority since priorities inevitably change over time. Adding onto this, Brittany said that while D&I focuses a lot on bringing in new and diverse team members, it is also important to consider who has stayed and become engaged within the company, as it shows whether a work culture has succeeded in creating a safe, comfortable environment. Willy agreed, emphasizing that it's important to objectively measure whether you're making an impact with your D&I efforts. He pointed out that companies tend to focus on race when there are numerous other diversity barriers, from age to levels of formal education. 

As the group went on, they covered more questions such as, "Is it ok to talk about race in the workplace?" and "How do you discuss D&I with people who see it as political?" Additionally, they discussed advice for broaching the topic of DEI with clients and the definition of equity. Make sure to check out their full video, time-stamped with chapters for viewer convenience, on the CFMA Youtube channel.