How to foster diversity in Accounts Payable and Finance

  • 15 Jan 2020
  • AP Automation
How to foster diversity in Accounts Payable and Finance Image

It’s no secret that the finance industry and, more specifically, accounts payable have struggled with diversity. Now, in the era of shedding light on unfair wage gaps and questionable hiring practices - as well as long-overdue conversations regarding systemic discrimination within society as a whole - businesses around the world are tasked with finally creating an industry that reflects the racial and gender diversity of the modern workforce.

Diversity brings with it a spectrum of skill sets and experience that helps companies address challenges and make significant advances, particularly in finance. And the rise of technologies such as accounts payable automation has opened the door to new talent and skills to be achieved, widening the pool from which organizations should look to hire. Technology also attracts more diverse talent with unique roles to fill in IT, financial operations and business system management, among others. All of these jobs are becoming integral parts of the accounts payable department as it moves out of the back office and into the forefront of many operations.

With increasing diversity becoming a priority for most finance departments, you can look to the following strategies for ways to make your organization more inclusive and, in doing so, more effective and successful.

Find different perspectives and work as a team

Different perspectives help the industry evolve to keep up with global demographics and behavior. According to a report by CPA Journal, research indicates that “diversity can lead to a more vigorous exchange of ideas that improves group decision making and performance and promotes innovation and creative problem solving.” Every culture, age bracket, race, and gender brings unique experiences and attitudes that contribute valuable insights to workforce challenges. The C-suite must proactively seek out underrepresented groups to gain these valuable insights throughout all levels of seniority in the business. 

For this reason, it is crucial that organizations provide a united front in encouraging diversity, from top executives to those in entry-level positions. Business leaders need to stress the importance of learning to work together to make diversity the norm, rather than the exception.

In accounts payable, collaboration is critical for a successful process. Inclusivity of teammates from different backgrounds helps to widen the collective skill set and can set the tone for natural leaders to emerge and eventually rise through the ranks of seniority. Collaboration through technology such as AP automation helps team members work through challenges together, regardless of their position, geography or routine. Cloud-based interconnectivity allows real-time access to data and the flexibility of working from a laptop or mobile device, so that the AP team can work in concert on shared tasks and processes.

Improve hiring practices for accounts payable jobs

While hiring practices are not the only way to improve diversity, they are a start. Managers with positions to fill in finance and accounts payable can ask their Human Resources department to put them into contact with programs and organizations that encourage women and minorities to enter into the field. Organizations should also look to mentor talented students, hire interns, and find people with diverse skills from a variety of regions and backgrounds. That isn’t to say that the best person for the job shouldn’t be the one who is ultimately hired. But by opening the door to a broader, more diverse and inclusive pool of talent, you’re most likely going to find valuable candidates who enrich your team while also checking the boxes of the skillset you set out to find.

Collaborative and inclusive culture

The culture you establish is what fosters diversity in your workplace in the long run and sets the tone for whether or not the people you hire make a lasting difference in the overall balance of gender and/or race ratios. Employing a diverse pool of talent, only to consistently favor a subset of your employees reinforces that minority employees are less critical to the big picture, which hurts job performance and increases attrition. 

Finding innovative ways to work together will help your team realize the positive effects of diversity and inclusion. Establish a collaborative culture that encourages interaction between (and within) seniority levels and departments. Explore technology to make it happen, such as video-conferencing from different locations, remote work opportunities, and accounts payable automation to make updated info accessible to everyone. From the top down, establish protocols that make it easy to work together and beneficial to all involved parties to learn from each other and reap the rewards for hard work and diligence.

Beyond encouraging collaboration, fostering a culture of inclusivity is imperative so each team member’s voice is heard and equal opportunities are offered to everyone. It takes more than hiring diverse employees to make inclusivity happen in the workplace. The C-suite and management needs to accept workflows and tactical styles that they may not be familiar with or consider traditional. Leaders need to understand and endorse that cultural factors augment a diverse and robust workforce.

Bringing women into finance

The gender gap in finance is profound in both representation as well as in wage differences. Women comprise 51% of the U.S. population but make up less than 16% of financial positions. Furthermore, fewer women hold executive positions in the industry. The solution to this challenge starts with recognizing there’s a problem, raising awareness among management and human resources of the gaps and celebrating efforts to shorten it.

However, awareness is only the start. A report from ResearchNews, involving a series of female think-tank discussions, proposed possible solutions for improving the gender diversity in finance, ranging from early-stage education and encouragement of young girls to learn skills applicable in finance, targeted internships for young women, flexible work hours for all employees, specific training to foster long-term career success and ongoing career development. 

The same report, citing a global study by The Peterson Institute for International Economics noted that women in senior leadership positions could increase overall efficiency in the organization and drive better results from the finance department. “Women more often embrace collaborative leadership styles [and are]... more prone toward problem-solving; empathy and active listening; and a mix of men and women in leadership produces more diverse viewpoints.” The C-suite shouldn’t need further proof to support the expansion of job opportunities for women in their organization. 

If organizations want to even out the imbalance of minorities and gender gaps in their organization, the onus falls on leadership to encourage inclusion and active development of equal opportunities for all of the workforce. With growth opportunities, encouraged collaboration and acceptance, companies can foster diversity in accounts payable and finance - and reap the many benefits.

 

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