Board Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Date: Oct. 16, 2017
Speaker: Steven B. Harris, Board Member
Event: PCAOB Remarks to Staff
Location: Washington

Chairman Doty, I commend you for your leadership in promoting Diversity and Inclusion at the PCAOB throughout your tenure and for scheduling this weeklong discussion on the subject.*

The Board's Strategic Plans have continually stressed our commitment to diversity and inclusion, recognizing that our programs are enriched by a staff that brings a diversity of experience, skills, cultures and backgrounds to its work.[1]

Jeanette Franzel has made this a priority since joining the Board and I know that Lew Ferguson feels much the same way.

My own commitment to diversity and inclusion was solidified early in my career when I worked for Barbara Jordan. Many of you are probably too young to have heard of her, but she was an African-American Congresswoman from Texas and a legendary, towering figure.[2] She viewed people through a totally non-discriminatory lens and believed that a person's merit is enriched by their creed, color, gender, and orientation. That attitude left a lasting impression on me.

When I was asked earlier this year by Accounting Today magazine to share the best piece of advice that I had ever received, my answer was simple: "Surround yourself with top-flight professionals with diverse backgrounds and listen to them carefully before making important decisions."[3] I believe that this advice from my father has served me well.

Over the course of the next few days you will hear from a number of people about why diversity and inclusion are critically important components of our culture at the PCAOB and why the Board is committed to ensuring that all of you feel empowered and supported. Topics for the week include: Leadership Commitment, Education and Awareness, Fostering Connections, and D & I Program Next Steps.

Ideally, this forum should not be necessary, but the fact remains that the benefits of inclusion and diversity in the workplace are still not accepted by everyone and too many people, too often, feel uncomfortable working with people who are not like themselves. Therefore, talking about these topics openly and frankly is extremely important, not just here at the PCAOB, but throughout our American workforce.

I have heard directly from some of you about your concerns in this area, so I am glad that we have an opportunity to discuss them in an open, honest manner over the next few days and I hope we will continue to do so in the future.

To me, both terms —diversity and inclusion—are significant. They are related, but separate. Diversity represents the variety of human differences that make each of us who we are. The term "inclusion," however, references a culture in which qualities like collaboration, flexibility and fairness are nurtured and diverse perspectives are welcomed.

Research shows that diverse organizations are more effective than their less diverse counterparts and that organizations that prioritize diversity—of education levels, religion, cultural background, age, experience levels and many other traits—work more efficiently, are better at anticipating potential problems, and adapt more easily to changing times.[4]

The term "diversity" also encompasses gender and racial differences, and these are important criteria as well.

For example, women make up more than half of our population and work clearly remains to be done throughout our society to ensure that they are provided the same opportunities as their male counterparts in terms of employment, career advancement and compensation.

With respect to race, we have much more work to do. The U.S. is becoming more diverse by the day. According to the Census Bureau, minorities will become the majority in the United States by 2044.[5] Therefore, the conversation we will be having throughout the week is an important one to help each of us better understand how to work most collaboratively and productively to further the goals of the PCAOB, not only today, but in the future.

So, yes, diversity is important, but the various individuals who come to work at our offices across this country, and who travel around the world to do essential work on behalf of investors, must feel as if they are a part of this community, or all the work that we have done to recruit and elevate a diverse workforce will have been for naught. This is what inclusion is all about.

This Board is absolutely dedicated to enhancing our practice of inclusiveness and seeking to enrich all of our programs through a staff that brings a diversity of experience, skills, cultures, and backgrounds to the furtherance of our mission "to protect the interests of investors in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit reports."[6]

I look forward to hearing your input and for any suggestions you may have for how to make the PCAOB the best place it can be.

I would like to close by noting that I believe that this forum presents those of us who lead this organization, including and especially Board members, an excellent opportunity to reflect on what we have done well, and on those areas where we must improve. I have heard from you that you would like the Board and senior leadership to be more transparent about our decision-making processes. I have also learned that you would like the Board to facilitate information sharing across divisions and teams. I can assure you that, at the Board level, we are discussing these issues, and that we are working to develop strategies that will enable us to be better.

Finally, I would like to thank you for your participation, and I would also like to thank Shaneen Trotman and Jacqueline Blount for their hard work on organizing and making this "PCAOB Diversity and Inclusion Week" possible.

[3] See Accounting Today, Top 100: 2017.

[4] See Diversity Matters, by McKinsey & Company, Feb. 2, 2015.

[6] Section 101(a) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, 15 U.S.C. 7211(a).

* I am speaking for myself, and my views do not necessarily represent those of the PCAOB, its board members or staff.