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Managing Diversity for the Accounting Firm of the Future

E&Y tweeted an interesting release this morning regarding their outlook on cultural diversity and how it relates to future success, both at their firm and in tomorrow’s global economy. I encourage you to read the full text (linked above), but here is an exercept I want to focus on:

“Our recent study “Redrawing the map: globalization and the changing world of business” reveals that the boards of many global companies lack the diversity to deal with intercultural challenges. At the same time, they cite the need for internationally experienced staff as the most important cultural factor in conducting business globally.”

Every firm is well aware of the importance for cross-cultural efficiencies as an accelerator to getting business done in the global markets. I agree with the article’s point that, “If an organization does not leverage the potent weapon of diversity, it risks limiting its creative potential and ultimately losing its competitive edge.” This is absolutely true. But how does a firm balance the “need” for cultural diversity with the reality that the leadership of many clients oftentimes resembles more of an Old White Man’s Club than that of an idealistic HR workplace? From schoolyard to the boardroom, we as people are naturally drawn to the bubble of comfort created by surrounding ourselves with those who are similar to us; commonalty breeds security. Think back to your last happy hour or the lunch table in 4th grade – what has changed?

On a personal level, E&Y isn’t failing at its internal diversity efforts; per Caleb’s post last week, they are second among the Big4 in terms of overall diversity hires (29%) and their male/female ratio is an even-steven 50%. These numbers are most likely bolstered by increased retention over the last 18 months as well as a focus on diverse hiring from the campus pipelines.

That’s not to say that the ongoing effort to strike a better diversity balance is unrealistic or futile. The next generation of partners (i.e. you new associates sweating through your first 80 hour workweek) are better prepared for the global workforce than the average 20 year veteran partner. The influx of group work, community service, and international students enrolled in American higher education institutions remains at the origin of preparedness. Couple these attributes with the fact that these colleges and universities see the statistical advantage to stirring the Diversity Melting Pot, today’s students are prepared more than ever for the corporate boardroom. If only you could send your partners back to experience the same thing.

The challenge for any firm lies in managing the differences created across cultures and generations. The basis of this responsibility lies within personal relationships formed between colleagues; something that no report or Fortune statistic can analyze.

You can follow Daniel Braddock, your friendly Human Resources professional, on Twitter @DWBraddock.