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​The Path to a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Workplace

When it comes to DEI, organizationwide responsibility and accountability is nonnegotiable.

Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora
National Inclusion and Diversity Practice Leader
KPMG Canada

Chris Mitchell
Chief Diversity Officer, Principal
Crowe LLP

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​What are the characteristics of an organization that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive?

Gonzalez-Zamora An organization that invests time, effort, and resources to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive will start seeing differences right away. With diversity, the company’s demographics start changing with added representation. People of different cultures, ethnic groups, ages, and genders with diversity of thought, neurodiversity, and different disabilities find a home at the organization. This changes the employee experience to a more welcoming culture, as everyone can find more people like them and feel a true sense of belonging. With inclusion, an organization also is listening to everyone’s voice, bringing those voices to the table, adding more communication channels, and being more transparent. These actions build a sentiment of belonging — where everyone can be themselves, respect each other, and build long-lasting relationships, which nurture trust over time. With equity, an organization can start to see fair internal talent processes that give equal opportunity for all, provide easy access to services and benefits, and help underrepresented groups overcome systemic barriers with frontal anti-racism and anti-oppression decision-making.

Mitchell There are four key characteristics of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization: tone at the top; firmwide responsibility and accountability; a strong coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring program; and active business resource groups (BRGs) — teams that encourage and support underrepresented groups. Leading with inclusion starts at the top. The tone, example, and support of leadership is necessary to motivate and engage the team. However, the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiative must be interwoven in the talent strategy. Thus, firmwide responsibility and accountability is nonnegotiable. The culture of the organization is reinforced when everyone understands the business case, their unconscious biases, and how they each can promote active allyship. There are many aspects of diversity, and recognizing what each team member needs to be successful — equity — is an important element of ensuring a robust pipeline that includes representation at all levels. Strong coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring programs will not only strengthen both individual and team confidence, but also increase retention. Lastly, active BRGs will help foster a sense of belonging and give critical insight into the unique perspectives of diverse team members. BRGs also are a great way to develop allies and relevant learning and development programs. 

Who should develop and maintain the DEI program?

Mitchell Everyone is responsible for carrying the DEI mantle and for initiating, advancing, and embedding inclusivity in the day-to-day culture. When selecting leadership roles, a DEI perspective is an important consideration. The heightened awareness of DEI has elevated it to a top five dashboard item. Does the proposed leader understand that DEI is critical to an engaged, empowered workforce and that clients, customers, business partners, and especially internal team members are expecting initiatives that promote inclusion? Also, BRGs can be leveraged as thought leaders in driving the strategic direction and approach of the firm’s DEI programs. 

Gonzalez-Zamora DEI should be everyone’s responsibility. Leaders should be role models for inclusive behaviors, middle management should treat everyone equitably, and staff should be respectful and embrace people’s differences. Formal DEI programs typically come from human resources, but they are now growing in criticality and urgency in organizations and are being developed and maintained by a special office reporting to a C-suite role, such as a chief equity officer. 

What steps can companies take to set up programs?

Gonzalez-Zamora DEI programs can be established by first listening to the different voices in the organization — through BRGs, for example. Second, diversity should be built in at all levels through alternative talent pools, or with scholarships and internships for underrepresented groups and inclusive succession planning. Third, with the pulse on the employee’s experience and representation at all levels, we must design programs that are customized to the needs of our diverse employees to help them thrive in the organization. 

Mitchell Key steps include an assessment of the current state to understand what’s working, gaps, and any challenges. It is important that leadership communicate the vision and “why” of DEI. A DEI council comprising leaders within the organization should be established to determine the strategy and drive initiatives to completion. Enlisting BRG participants to champion initiatives will promote firmwide participation and engagement. Lastly, employees should have access to DEI education materials to aid in knowledge sharing and transfer.

How do organizations measure whether such programs truly promote DEI?

Mitchell Measurement includes using metrics to monitor and track key performance indicators (KPIs) associated with key DEI recruiting, promotion, and retention objectives. It is also important to listen to and understand various perspectives via town halls, surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one discussions with leaders and peer groups to further measure successes, gaps, or opportunities for improvement.

Gonzalez-Zamora The true metrics of success are not only quantitative outcomes — such as number of people with disabilities, number of women in leadership roles — but also qualitative long-term impacts — such as, perception of fairness in internal talent promotions; psychologically safe relationships between middle management and staff; strong ties to the communities that surround your offices, warehouses, and stores; and trustful relations between top executives and staff.

How can companies begin to break down inequalities?

Gonzalez-Zamora Organizations can start by understanding their baseline situation. To understand gender equity and bias, organizations should measure how many female candidates are considered for promotion each year, and how many were promoted compared to their male counterparts. To understand hiring practices and systemic barriers, companies should measure how many people of color would need to be hired to reach a 30% goal in each function, geography, and level, and is this realistic given current hiring practices? To understand internal promotion bias and discrimination, organizations should consider the average tenure and the average years in the same role by ethnic group or race.  

Mitchell Breaking down inequalities is tough; however, understanding the current climate and analyzing various programs can help identify and mitigate potential bias. Active listening via strategic focus groups with leadership and employees, training to increase knowledge and behavioral change, and building action plans based on review of pulse surveys will help identify career pipelines and opportunities for improvement. And, of most importance — communicate, communicate, communicate. 

What role should internal audit play in DEI efforts?

Mitchell Incorporating DEI into a company’s yearly audit plan will identify areas that are operating as planned and those that require remediation. Audit focus areas could include: 1) a review of top-down involvement and the creation of a DEI council, 2) an audit of KPIs to understand success and opportunities for improvement, and 3) a review for the timely release of pulse survey results to measure compliance with goals and KPIs outlined in a transparency report.

Gonzalez-Zamora Internal audit can play a key role by setting the bar higher for management, human resources, and staff. Internal audit can use tools such as a risk taxonomy, risk conduct framework, or risk appetite definitions to influence efforts to add diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and respect as part of day-to-day activities. For example, by reminding the organization in its risk conduct framework that anti-racism is expected as part of its conduct, internal audit can help shape internal behaviors.  

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