Diversity and business ethics go hand in hand

Diversity Equality Inclusion write on a sticky note isolated on Office Desk.

Professionals who work intimately with business clients and finances should model the utmost integrity — and that includes a focus on diversity.

The public views certain business professionals, such as Certified Public Accountants (CPA), as highly ethical and trustworthy. (In fact, Gallup polls consistently put accountants at the top of most trusted business professionals.)

But that trustworthiness doesn’t come easy. Accountants are required to fulfill rigorous educational, experience and testing requirements just to receive their CPA designations, and that doesn’t count the yearly educational requirements they are bound to take for the remainder of their CPA careers. One such requirement in Virginia is an annual ethics course, vetted by the Virginia Board of Accountancy, that educates CPAs on how to make ethical business decisions.

That ethics requirement was put in place nearly 20 years ago in response to accounting scandals at Enron and Worldcom. But in the years since, business ethics has continued to evolve. In the last two years, a renewed societal focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) begs the question:

How can business professionals address DEI issues through an ethical lens?

It’s a question for ALL companies and ALL professionals, not just for those required to take ethics education, like CPAs.

Professionals working in and for corporate businesses, especially bankers, lawyers, financial planners, and others who work intimately with clients and a business’s finances, should always model the utmost integrity. And acting with integrity should include thinking about personal and professional biases that may exist.

Are you biased? The answer is yes because all humans have biases. But admitting biases that exist within yourself and/or your organization is the first step to inclusivity. Working to actively identify, evaluate and address biases can pay dividends: A company’s workforce will become more diverse and inclusive, and clients ultimately see those efforts.

So how do diversity and ethics play out in the real world? Consider this example.

Your team meetings are lively with frequent debate and good-natured joking. Discussions are usually carried by a small group within the team. A new team member recently immigrated to the country, and rarely speaks during team meetings.

Where’s the potential for bias? Similarity and experience biases might lead the team to exclude the new member inadvertently, by continuing to debate and joke. The new employee might find this intimidating if they don’t understand the humor or are not confident in their language skills.

How do you approach the situation with ethics, diversity and inclusion in mind? You can emphasize to the team that more innovative and objective decisions get made when there are more voices being heard. Consider collecting ideas in advance of team meetings (perhaps in writing) to allow the new member to add insights in a way that better supports their comfort level with communicating.

Committing to DEI principles as a means to achieving the highest business ethics isn’t easy, and it’s a lifelong process. We encourage ALL professionals to stay open and inquisitive to learning new ways to do business and maintain inclusive mindsets.

If you want to learn more, the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) offers “Ethical Considerations in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” — a course in its suite of tailored business ethics offerings appropriate for finance, accounting and other business professionals. Learn more about it and other ethics courses at https://www.cpaethics.com.


The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) is the leading professional association in the Commonwealth dedicated to empowering CPAs to thrive. Founded in 1909, the VSCPA has more than 13,000 members who work in public accounting, industry, government and education. For more information, please visit the Press Room on the VSCPA website at vscpa.com or call (800) 733-8272.