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Retaining People of Color at Accounting Firms

Five key strategies revealed.

September 20, 2007
by Catalyst

According to “Retaining People of Color: What Accounting Firms Need to Know,” Catalyst’s first report in the Women of Color in Professional Services Series, approximately 50 percent of people of color people in the accounting industry who were surveyed do not feel obligated to stay with their current firm, and nearly one-third of women of color were at risk of leaving within the year.

Factors Leading to Resignation

In order to address why people of color are at risk of leaving accounting firms, Catalyst examined key factors that “push” people of color — particularly women — out of their firms. One primary issue is the imperfect execution of a firm’s commitment to diversity. The Catalyst study revealed a perceived disconnect between a firm’s commitment to diversity and the execution of the practices that support that commitment. This disconnect is noticed by women and men of color, clearly demonstrating that diversity policies aren’t filtering down to racial and ethnic minority groups as effectively as they should.

Other push factors include:

  • A lack of access to informal networks
  • Stereotyping/double standards
  • A lack of development opportunities.

Six Key Retention Strategies

Although employers have little impact on pull factors that lead individuals to leave organizations, such as offers of high-paying jobs at other firms, employers can help retain their workforces by focusing on the push factors that frequently stimulate employees to leave. The following actions can help:

  • Assess the work environment to determine the systemic and cultural factors that impede the progress of people of color
    • Find out about your organization’s diversity strategy.
    • Use internal surveys, focus groups and interviews to document, by subgroup, the experiences and perceptions of women and men of color.
  • Examine your own opinions, assumptions and behavior
    • How inclusive are you about socializing with staff members from different backgrounds?
    • What priority do you give to institutional supports for staff members who are from backgrounds different from yours?
    • Do your expectations for the performance of your staff who are of color vary from those for your other staff?
    • Do you ever make assumptions based on stereotypes?
  • Develop closer relationships with women and men of color by learning about their perspectives
    • Make an effort to ask women and men of color about their perspectives, backgrounds and interests.
    • Identify subgroups of women of color and men of color in your organization and go out of your way to learn about their unique experiences and challenges.
    • Increase understanding of differences and similarities between groups and within groups through education and informal dialogues, one-on-one and in groups.
    • Encourage differences in behavioral and work styles.
  • Communicate and demonstrate your firm’s commitment to diversity  
    • Use training programs, one-on-one mentoring with senior leaders, inclusion in high-visibility programs and networking opportunities.
    • Integrate diversity initiatives into routine organizational practices, such as recruitment, orientation, training, career-development tools and succession planning.
  • Hold managers accountable for retention and advancement of women and men of color
    • Create clearly articulated plans for long-term development of women and men of color.
    • Hold managers accountable for providing critical development opportunities and high-visibility assignments necessary for advancement.
    • Review managers’ performance evaluations of subordinates by race/ethnicity and gender of subordinates.

The retention of top talent is particularly important to accounting firms. “To stay competitive, these firms can’t afford to train employees only to see many of their best and brightest leave to pursue other options,” said Ilene H. Lang, President of Catalyst. “Organizations that work to break down the ‘concrete ceiling’ that impedes the advancement of people of color will benefit by capitalizing on the full talent pool.”

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About Catalyst
Catalyst is a non-profit corporate membership research and advisory organization that works with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit corporate membership research and advisory organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. To download a free copy of Retaining People of Color: What Accounting Firms Need to Know, visit www.catalyst.org.