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Collage of Jeff Bandy, Rob Davis and Nick McGuigan with rainbow graphic
From Pivot Magazine

‘We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do’

DEI initiatives are key to supporting LGBTQ2SIA+ employees. And, if done correctly, can help attract and retain diverse talent in a competitive hiring market

Collage of Jeff Bandy, Rob Davis and Nick McGuigan with rainbow graphicFrom top left (clockwise): CPA Jeff Bandy from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; Nick McGuigan, co-founder of the Queering Accounting project and FCPA Rob Davis, chief inclusion, diversity and equity officer at KPMG Canada (Images provided)

It was the night before the annual retired partner dinner at KPMG and Rob Davis, FCPA, couldn’t sleep. Spouses were welcome at the dinner, but he had yet to introduce the firm to his long-term partner, Joseph. This was around 2009, when being an out Black man at an accounting firm wasn’t that common. “I would have been very nervous,” he remembers. “I would have been self-conscious about our actions. I didn’t want to stick out.” Nerves and all, Davis showed up at the dinner with his loved one in tow. But it wasn’t a decision made lightly. “I was a bit more senior and more comfortable in my own skin, frankly,” Davis says.

Now, Davis is the chief Inclusion, Diversity and Equity officer at KPMG in Canada and chair of Canada’s board of directors. As a gay Black man in a senior leadership position, he knows it’s crucial to be a role model for younger CPAs. “Representation is so important, and I didn’t have it when I was coming up through the ranks.” In fact, Davis had exactly one person to look up to—Mary Lou Maher, a former KPMG partner who held the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) position at one time. “She was the first person that made it okay for me,” he says. “She brought me out of the proverbial closet in terms of work. Just based on her being comfortable, and her being successful, despite the fact that she was gay.”

Having openly-LGBTQ2SIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and nonbinary, two-spirit, intersex, asexual) leaders at the helm of an organization is impactful, according to research from Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Directors and managers can advocate for individual employees while influencing organizational change, and inclusive leadership can help protect queer employees against experiences of discrimination at work. Survey respondents said directors, supervisors, and managers genuinely committed to LGBTQ2SIA+ equity were essential to create safer and more inclusive work environments. Advocacy organization Egale Canada found that leadership plays a key role in fostering an inclusive environment for LGBTQ2SIA+ employees, since most leaders set the tone when it comes to moving inclusive policies forward.

“It’s like a sigh of relief that you’re going to be able to bring all of yourself to work”

Alberta-based CPA Morgan Bazin looks to support other queer voices at work, because they didn’t have anyone to look to when they were coming out. Once they were leading a company call and introduced themselves with they/them pronouns. Afterward, Bazin got an email from a colleague. “They were like, ‘Oh wow, I’ve never encountered someone in the business world that uses they/them pronouns. I do too,’” Bazin says. “Just knowing that there was someone that I could show, yes, you can be a successful person in these industries and be out and be who you are, and that’s okay. It was really touching.” To Bazin, providing mentorship to other LGBTQ2SIA+ colleagues was one way to give back. “All you need to do is support one person,” they say. Research from McKinsey found that colleagues and teammates make a difference when it comes to folks feeling like they’re in an inclusive environment.

Kirsten Douglas sought this same allyship as a staff accountant and CPA candidate in Vancouver’s KPMG office. They saw queer people throughout the firm and knew it would be a good place to land. “It’s like a sigh of relief that you’re going to be able to bring all of yourself to work,” they say. “It made me feel that I would be able to excel, and that it would be a safe place for someone who is gender diverse.” Benefits included $10,000 lifetime coverage for procedures to support gender affirmation, gender-inclusive washrooms in most offices, and a more inclusive family leave top-up program for all parents. (Previously, only birth mothers received this benefit. Feedback from KPMG’s Pride Network helped usher in the change.)

DEI initiatives go a long way toward recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2SIA+ employees. Nowadays, firms are expected to have policies to actively dismantle inequity in the workplace—and firms who don’t will quickly fall behind. In the United States, Thomson Reuters found that one in five queer accountants left the profession due to a lack of DEI initiatives. And while they are becoming more common—and even necessary in an ultra-competitive hiring market—authenticity is paramount.

“I love a little rainbow logo,” says Jeff Bandy, a CPA in Dartmouth. “But if [after Pride Month] your logo changes back to normal and you actually haven’t done anything to back up your stance, then it’s great for visibility, but it comes across as just good PR.” Sponsoring queer organizations, changing insurance policies to include gender affirming care, and donating funds to youth projects are some ways to “put your money where your mouth is,” Bandy says. “It’s so much more than a logo.”

Each of the Big Four firms have their respective Pride committees and initiatives. Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada brought in DEI experts to rethink policies so they are gender and sexual identity inclusive, including gender affirmation surgery coverage, parental leave for non-biological parents, surrogacy benefits for single parents, and $2,500 a year for mental health benefits. Sixteen per cent of employees identify as LGBTQ2SIA+, though Olivia Nuamah, national inclusion, diversity and belonging leader at PwC Canada, notes that coming out at work is a personal decision. “We do our very best to foster a culture that enables our people to be comfortable being their true self, and feel equitably supported in their careers,” she says. “We are here for our people, no matter where they are on their journey.”

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”

New hires are introduced to Shine, PwC’s global LGBTQ2SIA+ community. “We try to [connect] them right away with our existing community,” says Jacob Young, Shine co-chair for the Greater Toronto Area. “It helps put them at ease through creating a sense of belonging and community and enables them to thrive in being their authentic self.”

Diversity is also good for business. EY found that employees on diverse teams are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, are more engaged, and are 50 per cent more productive. “With global companies constantly competing for skilled employees, a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment can be central to recruiting and retaining the best talent,” their webpage on advancing LGBTQ2SIA+ policy reads. In Deloitte’s 2022 global outlook on LGBTQ2SIA+ inclusion at work, 80 per cent of LGBTQ2SIA+ staff surveyed said their employers made inclusion a priority of their DEI strategy. Of those, nearly all said these initiatives led to meaningful support. Allyship was also critical for those employees to feel comfortable in their workplaces, with nearly 40 per cent of respondents saying allies speaking up to address non-inclusive behaviours and proactively listening to their queer colleagues can help foster inclusive work environments.

DEI policies and practices are market differentiators, KPMG’s Davis says. “It allows us to attract better talent, because they see how they can thrive in our environment and not thrive in others,” he says, noting that people are better at their jobs when they are free to be themselves. “Seeing me, a very senior person, Black and gay, it creates a safety net for people,” he says. But, there are role models elsewhere in the firm. This year, eight per cent of the new partner class at KPMG identified as LGBTQ2SIA+, three per cent higher than the employee population generally. As well, 80 per cent of these employees say they feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. But Davis says that number should be 100 per cent. “We’ve come a long way,” he says. “But there is still work to do.”

Despite these initiatives at Big Four firms, some queer people don’t feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work until they’re in leadership positions themselves. CPA Trisha Egberts was closeted well into her adult years. You wouldn’t know it now. She describes herself as “very, very out” at work—colleagues occasionally react to her Slack messages with the rainbow emoji. But at the beginning of her career, she spent three years firmly in the closet. Sure, there were employee resource groups and events each June. But she worked with companies who weren’t as LGBTQ2SIA+-friendly compared to internal folks at the firm. She also travelled for work to countries where she could literally be imprisoned for being gay.

Now, Egberts is vice-president of finance and operations at ThinkData Works, a start up with about 50 employees. In her leadership position, she can actually make a difference. “It’s about creating really intentional, long-lasting policies and cultural changes.” Her company sees DEI more holistically, for anybody who’s been underrepresented or overlooked in policies, including LGBTQ2SIA+ people, Black, Indigenous, racialized and neurodiverse people. One way to forge a cultural change is through hiring. Egberts says their entire job application and interview processes were redesigned to ensure the most capable candidates with diverse backgrounds apply. Hiring managers also undergo unconscious bias training to minimize the risk of discrimination.

This comes at a crucial time. Canadian business law firm Osler found that companies with strategies to increase diversity do so by recruiting a workforce reflective of the Canadian landscape and investing in training programs to build inclusive leadership. The workforce is undergoing a shift of priorities spurred on by the pandemic. In an industry competing for talent, employees are reconsidering their careers and navigating work-life balance. And while assembling a more diverse team is great, Egberts says, “If you haven’t created a culture where they feel safe and empowered to learn and grow and stay, then you’ll lose them just as fast as you got them.”

There are movements underway to “queer” the profession. Researchers Nick McGuigan, Lisa Powell and Alessandro Ghio founded Queering Accounting, a project to re-imagine accounting through queer perspectives. To them, inclusivity isn’t the goal. “We would argue we’re not interested in being included in accounting firms as they currently are,” McGuigan says. “It’s not an inclusive space, because structurally, it’s been built on heteronormativity.” However, diversity is one way to open up space for everyone and create a more diverse profession that embraces personalities and viewpoints of all types.

“We need organizations to come out, like we come out”

A famous quote from American activist Vernā Myers reads, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” But Ghio takes it one step further to include the “E” in DEI: “We need to move to equity, where not only do I invite you to dance,” they say, “I want to rip apart the dance floor and create multiple dance floors.”

In Terri McDowell’s 37 years with EY (including 22 years in Canada), she says the profession as a whole has evolved to be more accepting of LGBTQ2SIA+ people. She felt fully supported when she made the decision to transition in 2019. “I wanted to do it openly and candidly here at EY. Pretty much the unbridled response across the board was what can we do to help and how can we support?” McDowell wants to make it easier for the next generation that comes along. “They won’t be the first. They’ve got a seat at the table just like everyone else,” she says.

Trailblazers like McDowell and Davis make a difference for young CPAs entering the industry. Like waving a rainbow flag, visibility and representation signal to others that thriving in a traditionally conventional profession is possible for LGBTQ2SIA+ people, too. It did for Douglas. “I’m grateful to the people who came ahead of me and who paved the path so that folks like myself are able to work in a place where you see yourself reflected in the people around you, and you’re able to be safe and open at work,” says Douglas.

McGuigan says CPAs who can see the world through different lenses at the same time are an asset, especially as accountants are increasingly expected to make complex, difficult decisions. “If we can open the minds of accountants to be more flexible, they’re more likely to open boundaries and explore unknown spaces so that we can connect the dots,” McGuigan says. “We can create more holistic decision making, and we can start to find the future relevance of our profession.”

The researchers say the future is bright for accountants of diverse backgrounds, but there must be space made for their voices to be heard. “We need organizations to come out, like we come out,” McGuigan says. “We’re using queer terminology to say, you have to come out of yourself. You have to meet us somewhere in the middle and connect to reformulate what the dance floor looks like. So we can all dance together. But it will be dancing in new ways.”


Put in the work to become a more inclusive workplace with these expert tips. Heed this advice to make your organization more welcoming for trans people. Plus, here are a selection of books to help take DEI initiatives for your business to the next level.