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In response to the emergent financial strain of the Coronavirus pandemic, many companies have scrambled to slash costs leading to concerns that the focus on diversity and inclusion could be forgotten. However, despite the ongoing anxiety around the changing nature of work, some organisations are beginning to place a new emphasis on workplace inclusivity, particularly as the pandemic continues to fragment the workplace with more staff working from home than ever before.

A shift in focus

To understand how we can support D&I in the post-pandemic workplace, it is important to first understand the state of the workplace as it exists right now. In a new report by the job site Indeed, research showed that many workers believed that the pandemic has shifted their companies' focus away from diversity. Although the report also found that 57% of respondents believed their organisation was making positive steps to improve diversity, 10% believed there has been a shift away from it.

When looking at accountancy specifically, a survey published in 2021 by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) found that, out of 10,000 practitioners worldwide, 73% believed accountancy to be an inclusive profession. Despite this, 63% of respondents believed that the profession has an issue with diversity and inclusion. These statistics are interesting as they indicate that, despite the increasing focus on diversity and inclusion within accountancy, over half of those working within the industry are not yet able to see this fully reflected in their own experiences.

In a report published in 2018 by Cardiff Business School and HEC Paris, research showed that, when asked about the effectiveness of diversity policies, less than half of survey respondents were positive and almost 30% believed these policies to be a "smokescreen that disguises inequality". The same report found that 64% of participants were not involved in a diversity network and 47% voiced concern that being associated with such a network may be met with negative responses. Much like the 2021 ACCA survey, this report highlights that there is a long way to go within accountancy to fully realise a shift towards a diverse and inclusive industry.

An opportunity for change

In a discussion organised by ACCA, PwC and the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) in January 2021, Helen Brand, OBE, Chief Executive of ACCA highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic can be a turning point for reassessing the role of diversity and inclusion in accountancy. In her speech, Brand highlighted the importance of encouraging diversity and inclusion in accountancy as an opportunity to build towards a "better world where all have the same range of opportunities available to them".

The pandemic has indeed offered new opportunities for diversifying the workplace according to the Employment Trends Survey more than 82% of firms have increased communication with staff, a third of firms have increased flexible working arrangements, and more than half of firms have improved the availability of mental health assistance to employees throughout the pandemic. As of April 2020, almost 60 CEOs at accounting-related organisations had agreed to the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge and, as of May 2021, this number has risen to 94.

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic may have diverted attention away from diversity and inclusion across the board, the commitment shown by accounting-related organisations to the development of a diverse workforce is certainly encouraging. Along with our rethinking of how and where we work, accountancy needs to, as Helen Brand discussed, take this period of momentous change as an opportunity to build an industry where diversity is a key driver of change.

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