Your Reputation Precedes You

People are going to talk. So give them something good to say with timely messages about diversity and inclusion at your firm.

With cultural flashpoints erupting on a daily basis in America, employers suddenly find themselves as arbiters of inclusive values. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer

(which measures Americans’ trust and distrust in various institutions and sources) found that 67 percent of employees expect their employers to ‘take action’ on social issues.

Employees who believe that their employers are, in fact, trying to make the world a better place are much more likely to advocate for the organization; are more loyal; and more engaged in their work, according to Edelman.

These days, gender, racial and personal identity are key filters for employer reputation. Employees don’t want empty words. They know that leaders have a lot of responsibilities.

But they also know that the workplace is likely the least segregated venue for most Americans. If people are going to get to know each other as individuals and can build relationships that lead to broader insight and empathy for others’ experiences, it’s likely to happen at work.

That is how inclusion becomes a competitive advantage: when your employees see and experience for themselves how big-picture aspirations translate to daily relationships with co-workers and managers.

I manage the Accounting MOVE Project, the only annual diversity and inclusion benchmarking report for the CPA profession. In May, the MOVE Project report focuses on advancing women. That report is made possible by founding sponsor Moss Adams and national sponsor CohnReznick. In late autumn, the same research results in a snapshot of diversity in the profession, through a separate report sponsored by Grant Thornton.

As the MOVE team and I interview hundreds of firm partners and professionals at every point in their careers, we hear over and over again that real inclusion happens not because of a sweeping pronouncement by an executive but through daily decisions by managers and co-workers.  It’s not the quoteworthy speech at the annual meeting by the CEO that makes the difference, but the deliberate recognition by a senior manager of a quiet leader who is a member of a racial, gender, or identity minority.

Most American employers face the same diversity dilemmas as CPA  firms: women join the profession but it’s hard to retain them, and it’s hard to recruit minorities to begin with. You can tell yourself that your firm is an ‘employer of choice,’ but that’s only true if talent is actually choosing you.

Truly talented people want to work with others who are smart, motivated and who share their values. That’s true of employees and it’s true of clients.

The May 2019 MOVE Project report will take a deep dive into the dynamics of women’s networking preferences and how rising women decide to stay on the path to partnership… or not.  Your firm’s reputation is shaped in part by how women talk about their daily work with friends, ex-colleagues, and relatives. The December 2018 CPA Diversity report showed how firms can establish an inclusion beachhead with just one team or office that ‘gets it.’

It’s not enough any more to frame diversity in terms of ‘reflecting clients’ values.” It’s time for CPA firms to lead on diversity and inclusion. Clients are interested in process as much as progress. They want to know how your firm pursues diversity and what you learn along the way.

Employees and clients will talk about your firm’s talent, and inclusion is part of your talent story. Give them a great tale to tell.


By: Joanne Cleaver, Accounting MOVE Project 

2019 AAM Summit Pre-Conference Post 

Joanne Cleaver will present “Inclusion as Brand Advantage” on June 12 at 4:50 p.m. at the Engage conference in Las Vegas. Learn more about the Accounting MOVE Project, including report archives, at

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About Joanne Cleaver

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