As more tax & accounting organizations seek to create more diverse & equitable workplaces, the beneficial impact of uniqueness among team members shouldn't be overlooked
While organizations — both inside and outside the tax & accounting industry — strive to create diversity, there are times we will be placed on teams, committees, even in whole companies in which we may be the only person that looks, thinks, or acts like us.
In these situations, it is easy to be intimidated and feel pressure to assimilate our point of view to the larger more homogeneous group. If we do, however, we are missing a real opportunity. Instead, we should embrace that opportunity and share our unique perspective with the larger group.
The impact of a diverse team
Consider the purpose of being on a team. Some leaders are drawn to pulling together individuals that think, look, and act like other successful individuals. Their intention is to repeat prior success by selecting team members with similar attributes, or foster harmony by having a team of people who may all act alike. However, the purpose of a team is to bring together people with different strengths, so the team is stronger by functioning together rather than by operating as individuals. If everyone on the team is a good strategist but no one is skilled at execution, the team will struggle to deliver what they promised.
As the discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) continues to mature, there is a greater realization around the impact that diversity has on teams and organizations. For example, McKinsey & Company has been studying the impact on diversity within organizations over several years. Its 2019 findings showed that companies that incorporated gender diversity on their executive teams had a 25% greater chance of above-average profits — a 10-percentage-point increase from its 2014 findings. And when executive teams included ethnic diversity, they had a 36% greater chance of outperforming other organizations.
These results are achieved when organizations make an effort to increase their diversity, and when those being included speak up and the leaders listen. It takes time for diversity to spread through companies, and the data shows it is happening at a slow rate. This means when we are given opportunities in which we are the only team member that is a woman, a person of color, younger, or who identifies as LBGTQIA+, we have the obligation to bring our strengths and insights into the conversation.
The confidence to speak up
February was Black History and Women’s History months, and those months we were reminded of stories of those who forged new paths. Whether they were the first black or woman that broke through barriers, their background and values generated ideas in them that no one else had. They didn’t give up on their convictions because no one else could see it or because they looked different. They worked to get a seat at the table, or made their own seat, so they could make a difference.
A recent example is Phyllis Newhouse, founder and CEO of Xtreme Solutions. In 2002, she became the first black woman CEO of a cybersecurity company, and about seven years later she was the first black woman CEO of NYSE-listed SPAC [Special Purpose Acquisition Company]. She describes her career path as being the “Only” black woman in the room, and she learned how to “play the game” by observing and engaging mentors. Newhouse has shared her experiences, saying “…if you understand the game, even as an Only, you get to play it — but it requires courage, strategy, confidence, and understanding.”
Part of building the individual confidence necessarily comes from awareness of your strengths, what makes you distinct, and how you can add value. For those who are still working on identifying these attributes, the Marcus Buckingham Company developed an assessment called StandOut Strengths. In an interview, Buckingham described StandOut as “…a way for us to see one another — and not through the lens of gender, race, intellectual accomplishment, or level in the company. Rather, we can see each other through one’s positive natural pattern, which you can call their strengths.”
As we all work together to create greater diversity and inclusion and equity, in our organizations, it’s important to be good shepherds of when we are the Only, as Newhouse described.
Realize the team will perform better when diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and values are shared during discussion and planning, and this in turn will make the organization richer — figuratively and literally — when diverse voices are heard.