By Bobbi D. Kelly, PHR, SHRM CP | Kreischer Miller
This past October I had the distinct privilege of attending the National Association of Black Accountants’ (NABA) Eastern Region Student Conference as part of Kreischer Miller’s involvement in the Diversity and Inclusion Pilot Program, a year-long partnership with the PICPA intended to strengthen diversity and inclusion efforts at our firm. At Kreischer Miller we recognize the business benefits that come with strong diversity within a company. We are not unique in this fact.
When it comes to a diversity strategy, the focus often shifts to hiring more minority candidates. While recruiting was our primary consideration for attending the conference, it became clear to me that the other side of the coin is inclusion.
As a woman, I know what it’s like to walk into a room full of men and feel “different.” But outside of that, I am almost always surrounded by people who look like me – something that until now I realize I have very much taken for granted. When I walk into a party, I know the music. When I walk into a networking event, I am familiar with the food. The list could go on.
My guess is that like me, many of you haven’t historically found yourselves in situations in which you are in the minority. The simple fact is that when you are in the majority, you will be the majority in the majority of the places you go. But those reading this who are black, Asian, Latino, or another race/ethnic background understand how it feels to be in the minority.
At the NABA conference, I had the opportunity to briefly experience what it feels like to be in the minority. I was invited to an employer-only party after the last day of the conference. I was excited to spend more time with those who had worked so hard to put the event together and who were there with the same goals as me.
When I walked into the party, everyone greeted me with open arms, offered to make me a drink, told me where the snacks were, and introduced me to people I didn’t know. Everyone was so warm and welcoming. So why did I feel like I didn’t belong there? It dawned on me that, for the first time in my life, I was somewhere where I was truly in the minority. I was one of maybe two or three white people in a room of 60 to 70 individuals. I didn’t know the words to the music that was playing, the topics of conversation were ones to which I didn’t feel I could contribute, and even the way I was dressed felt different. None of those things were bad, they were just different. Luckily my hosts went above and beyond to make me, and everyone, feel included.
Thanks to this experience, I gained a firsthand and new appreciation for the importance of inclusion – which is much more than just diversity. I will always remember how welcomed I felt, even when I questioned if I belonged. People want to feel welcomed, but just as importantly, they want to feel like they belong. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need for social belonging is only preempted by physiological and safety needs.
I don’t have a magical answer to help firms foster inclusion and belonging, but I do know that the first step is to understand that there is a gap. Not everyone is the same. Not all cultures are the same, and not all traditions are the same. It is the responsibility of us all to seek to understand and appreciate differences – and, yes to empathize with those who are different from us. Once you gain an understanding of cultural differences, you will naturally find yourself in a place of not just accepting those who may be different, but embracing the richness of diversity that they bring to the organization. With that, an environment of inclusion will come. When you approach things from someone else’s perspective, you quickly realize that perspective is everything.
Bobbi D. Kelly, PHR, SHRM CP, is director of human resources at Kreischer Miller in Horsham, Pa. She can be reached at BKelly@kmco.com.