Workplace initiatives to enhance diversity and inclusion give companies a competitive advantage, says D&I expert Kim Drumgo, who guides employers in undertaking such efforts.
Kim Drumgo, director of diversity and inclusion (D&I) for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), helps companies start and support their own D&I initiatives. She was a featured participant in a workshop at HFMA’s Annual Conference.
In this Q&A, conducted before the conference, Drumgo (pictured at right) shares insights as to how companies can reap the benefits of D&I strategies.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background in diversity and inclusion.
A: I began my career as a consultant with Anderson Consulting, where I focused on projects such as change management and business process reengineering. I later moved on to a small consulting firm and subsequently landed a job at a health insurance company as a project manager in their technical area
While I was a project manager, I was asked to participate in a D&I council at a health insurance organization. After my first meeting, I felt the fire in my belly, and I absolutely wanted to do more to support D&I.
I felt very clearly that organizations were thinking about D&I in terms of meeting quotas, with an emphasis on doing the right thing, but after our first few meetings, we all began to see very clearly where D&I is more of a competitive advantage. Since then, I’ve been the leader of two D&I efforts in two different organizations.
Now, I’m in the accounting profession with the AICPA. I believe that regardless of the industry, the benefits of D&I are so very clear in that you get the best out of your customers or clients when your employees feel valued and welcomed in your organization. Given the evolution of our country’s demographics, our clients and customers are from a vast array of backgrounds, and therefore our employees should be as well. That’s really what gives us the competitive advantage.
Q: What are some of the benefits to companies of providing more diverse and inclusive workplaces?
A: As I mentioned, it brings forth the competitive advantage. D&I really embraces innovation as well. The magnitude of perspectives that a diverse team can provide can have a great impact on the organization’s ability to visualize and achieve innovative results
I have worked on many diverse teams, and it really brings forth better solutions. I remember working on one of my IT teams and recognizing that all of us had very different backgrounds and different education. The way we got to the organization was different and our ethnicities were different, but we came up with some of the best solutions for the project that we were working on.
I reflect on that experience quite a bit because I can see where if I’m on teams and all of us are coming from the same background or all of us know the topic very well, we tend to go to the same solution, right? We get caught up in that groupthink. With diversity and inclusion, you can certainly break the groupthink by bringing in people who are different from you to help you analyze your solutions and ideas in a different way.
We used to say that our workforce should reflect the demographics of our clients and the customers whom we serve. However, it’s inclusion and the feeling of belonging that we’ve been missing
I feel like diversity is about who we hire. Inclusion is how we put our diversity to work. Making sure we’re getting to better solutions, we’re creating productive teams and servicing our clients, those are the greatest benefits we can see in our work in D&I.
Q: What are some ways you coach companies to support D&I?
A: Companies should first assess where they are, and then ask themselves what more they can do to ensure that all employees feel valued and have a sense of belonging in their organizations. I believe that now more than ever, diversity leaders are spending time hosting conversations about differences across their organizations.
As a diversity leader, I see companies spending more time on understanding unconscious bias and how that plays out in our decision-making processes
We’re beginning to educate and facilitate skill development for leaders to be more intentional, and they’re more aware of the differences on their teams and are working to create an environment of belonging. The first thing I always coach companies to do is conduct a good analysis of their employee engagement data and to get a really good temperature check of where their employees are.
I’ve used these engagement survey data to set priorities for my initiatives, and they have certainly helped identify where to start and some things that we could definitely prioritize a little bit differently.
Q: What are some of the stumbling blocks that companies might run into when working on a D&I initiative?
A: There are a lot of stumbling blocks. The main one that I see companies running into is wanting to see results too quickly. Most CEOs, managing partners, and organizational leaders will provide money to their D&I leaders expecting to see a return on investment (ROI) within a year—or even a few months.
I always try to coach organizations and firms into understanding that D&I is not transactional, where you put money down and you get a product and you expect it to work immediately. D&I is more of a transformational process where organizations will see improvement only when it has been implemented—when the initiative has been implemented consistently across the organization, and it’s been sustained for a period of time.
D&I projects, in my mind, tend to fail when a program is implemented in year one, they expected to see results, it failed [in their minds], and so they implement another project. Corporate culture and mindsets are also really important for achieving those results in all D&I areas, so it’s that mindset that “We’re in this for the long haul,” versus, “We’re going to do this for the short term.
I often think of D&I as not being like the stock market. Matters of D&I do not return on their investment quickly. Unless there is serious accountability, then the ROI will continue to be hard to demonstrate year over year. That’s not the diversity leader’s fault, but it’s more of the organization’s fault for not giving it time to make sure that the process matures and has an opportunity to show those results and a ROI
Q: What are some trends that you’ve witnessed in the industry since you began working in the field of D&I?
A: One of the things that’s interesting is that I am not a first-generation D&I leader in my family. I’m third generation. My grandfather is a graduate of Tuskegee University and founder and supporter of an organization that taught African-American farmers how to farm in Alabama.
He was a huge advocate of diversity and inclusion and bringing up minorities during his time. My father, who’s also a graduate of Tuskegee University, focused on race relations when he was talking about D&I in the 1980s and 1990s. Where my grandfather focused more on civil rights and making sure that African Americans specifically had equal access to education and information, my father spoke about D&I as it related to race relations in corporate America.
Now, we’re really talking about how to put that diversity to work, which is inclusion. I like to say that diversity is who we are, but inclusion is what we do—and how we make that diversity more powerful in our organizations creates that competitive advantage.
I’m seeing the evolution from what my grandfather and my father did to what I’m doing right now, but then if I think about what my kids might see, I’m thinking more along the lines of belonging. We will have reached the tipping point where our workforce is diverse and the pool of resources coming into our companies is diverse
Now, we really need to focus on inclusion and continue to build on belonging and feeling valued in the organizations that we’re in regardless of our background or where we come from, or even what we look like.
Q: If companies aren’t already working on D&I initiatives, how can they get started
A: I would recommend an organization first begin its journey by forming a group of leaders to have an honest conversation about the cultural climate of their organization and how D&I can help their current climate and what their business case is, what are they missing, so that they can really get to the nuts and bolts of what they need to do first.
I recommend then starting a diversity group, whether it be a committee or a council. One of the things I didn’t do that I wish I would have done when I was starting my diversity council is to make sure that you have not only the people who are passionate about diversity and inclusion, or those people who’ve bought into it, if you will. You also need to have some of those who might be a little skeptical about D&I initiatives and what it means to the organization. I say that because the goal of including both of those mindsets is to ensure that the group working on this D&I initiative has a good understanding of the cultural climate and the cultural dynamics that currently exist in their organization.
That will then help frame why the organization is now focusing on D&I. I think both mindsets are very important as an organization is beginning to launch this type of program.
Another thing I recommend is that the CEO be involved. And a senior leader who is not the originator of this D&I group should become a part of the D&I group. It’s important to obtain senior leadership buy-in, which will help set the tone at the top.
For those people who are skeptical, they now have a north star, if you will, of someone who’s setting an example. It’s critical to ensure that the leader who is setting the tone at the top is not just saying that D&I is important but is also demonstrating behaviors that show that D&I is important.
Leaders have done some of the following things to set that tone at the top: They have addressed inclusion among their direct reports. They’ve even taken a step to say, “I need to diversify my team; I need more gender diversity, ethnic diversity, regional diversity,” on their teams, and they’ve addressed that, and they have made a change
Also, [organizations] should be allocating funds to ensure that their HR and learning teams infuse D&I topics into their day-to-day activities. This is very important because if D&I is a separate topic, then for many of our leaders and managers in the organization, they’re going to see this as another task on their list of things to do.
If we’re really good at infusing it, integrating it into day-to-day practices, such as recruiting and performance evaluations, then it’s not another thing to do, but it becomes part of the fabric of the organization.
One of the things that my CEO has done recently is he signed the CEOs in Action for Diversity and Inclusion campaign pledge. For more than 400 companies and firms, their CEOs have made a commitment to inclusion and addressing unconscious bias in their organizations, and to being forthcoming with the challenges and successes that they’ve had. That’s a really great way for organizations to begin their journey with that tone at the top.
Lisa Towers is managing editor of digital content and specialty publishing for HFMA.
Interviewed for this article: Kim Drumgo, director, Diversity and Inclusion, Association of International Certified Public Accountants.