Crossing Bridges recap: Stories of equity and inclusion in the workplace

By Nicole Fracasso, OSCPA communications intern 

Dr. Cynthia Turner, PhD, CPA, defines diversity as a talent pool within an organization that reflects different backgrounds, positions and perspectives. 

Equity is the degree to which organizations value these differences, and inclusion is when individuals feel empowered to contribute authentically, Turner said Feb. 10 at OSCPA’s Crossing Bridges program. 

In the latest event in the Crossing Bridges series, Turner led a panel of organizational leaders as they navigated DE&I in their workplaces and discussed the challenges and wins they have experienced. 

Woman smiling for camera.

Panelist Caitlin Hawkins, DE&I consultant at The Diversity Center in Northeast Ohio, discussed the notion of moving from a “safe space into a brave space.” 

“There are a lot of ways that organizations can create opportunities to engage,” she said. “Obviously, it’s up to the individual, but a couple things organizations can do are working to create community agreement around difficult conversations.” 

For example, The Diversity Center offers different programs to help people address bias and microaggressions. 

“We hope folks engage in metacognition, which is the process of thinking about what you’re thinking about,” she said. 

Also among the panel of leaders was Rob Whittall, CPA, managing partner at Dyke Yaxley LLC, a firm with offices both in Cleveland and The United Kingdom. 

“The U.K. and U.S. aren’t drastically different,” he said. “But they are still different from an accounting perspective.” 

Whittall manages a diverse team of people who come from different backgrounds and cultures. For example, Whittall shared a story about an employee from China who would neither offer nor ask for help from colleagues via email. In his culture, this was considered offensive, and so he would talk to Whittall when he was in situations like this. 

“As people have come in, I’ve realized that it’s my responsibility to make sure I understand different cultures and educate myself and get the best out of people,” he said. 

 Panelist Perry Jeffries, president of Diamond Equity Advisors, shared his experience as a Black man in a predominantly white profession. 

“The first thing I noticed when I got into the financial services industry was that I was the only Black person in the room,” he said. “When I walk into a room, I’m always prepared that I will be the only Black face in the room.” 

The group also discussed allies, what they are and how they have helped in this space. 

“An ally is someone who takes an active role in creating an inclusive environment,” Jeffries said. 

Poonam Jain, CPA, said an ally is somebody who you can trust and ask questions about different cultures. Jain lived in India for 25 years before moving to Cleveland. She said those who come from different cultures need people they trust enough to ask them questions. 

“Sometimes things are expressed differently in other countries and it’s difficult to get a point across,” she said. 

In addition, Hawkins added that an ally is not a label someone can give themself, it is something they must demonstrate. 

“You have to wake up every day and earn it,” she said. 

Turner said to advance DE&I efforts, organizations must set tangible goals, develop steps to achieve them and hold themselves accountable when meeting those goals. 

“I hope that the members of the audience leave feeling inspired because they will have learned some practical ways that they can build a more inclusive environment within their organizations,” she said. 

To learn more, register for the next session in OSCPA’s Crossing Bridges series on March 10.