Diversity offers competitive advantage for businesses

A new publication by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) is helping boards of directors address the importance of diversity within their organizations.

The CICA's Risk Oversight and Governance Board commissioned the special publication titled "Diversity Briefing: Questions for Directors to Ask." The document uses real-world statistics and examples to clearly draw the link between diversity and business successes. It was written by three authors from Ernst & Young: Fiona Macfarlane, managing partner, people; Diane Sinhuber, partner and Canadian leader, banking and capital markets; and Tanya Khan, partner, advisory services.

"Studies demonstrate the benefits of a diverse team in areas such as organizational performance and problem solving," says Macfarlane. "When managed properly, diversity can provide an important competitive advantage for business. There are powerful examples of leading global companies which successfully utilized diversity to help generate innovative products and services that delivered tangible benefits to their bottom lines."

The CICA publication provides questions for directors to ask to help them address diversity issues as part of their oversight responsibilities.

"While many documented examples of diversity focus on race and gender, the concept of diversity is broader and encompasses factors including age, culture, personality, skill, training, educational background and life experience," notes Macfarlane. "The influence of a variety of perspectives and viewpoints can contribute to flexibility and creativity within organizations, which can help them thrive in a complex and competitive global economy."

Directors are responsible for setting the tone at the top and overseeing an organization's approach to diversity as it affects strategy, risk and performance. Issues for consideration by directors include:

  • The influence of diversity on the organization's ability to innovate and stay ahead of the competition;
  • The potential advantages of including diversity as a component of the organization's strategies;
  • The benefits of considering diverse perspectives in order to improve problem solving and increase the effectiveness of risk management;
  • The need to incorporate diversity into management succession planning; and
  • The importance of board diversity as a component of board effectiveness.

The CICA publication is intended to be a catalyst for useful dialogue among directors, for directors with management, or with outside advisors. It can be found online at www.rogb.ca.

The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA), together with the provincial, territorial and Bermuda Institutes/Ordre of Chartered Accountants, represents a membership of approximately 75,000 CAs and 12,000 students in Canada and Bermuda. The CICA conducts research into current business issues and supports the setting of accounting, auditing and assurance standards for business, not-for-profit organizations and government. It issues guidance on control and governance, publishes professional literature, develops continuing education programs and represents the CA profession nationally and internationally. CICA is a founding member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA).