Why Mentoring and Coaching Are Key to Maintaining Diversity in Finance

by Nikki Watson Pierce

An approximate $223 Billion is lost every five years due to employee turnover. Systemic bias and lack of equitable representation throughout organizations add layers of complexity to the evergreen war for talent. For mid-level finance leadership, investing in training and mentoring resources is essential to addressing these challenges.

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Companies of all sizes and across nearly every industry segment are facing headwinds when it comes to engaging, retaining, and optimizing their workforce. In addition to the mass experiment of remote-hybrid work, triggered by the pandemic, and persistent issues of employee dissatisfaction and burnout, many organizations are also experiencing historic highs in employee turnover. Systemic bias and lack of equitable representation throughout organizations—particularly in mid-level and senior leadership roles – add more layers of complexity to an already perfect storm affecting today’s talent. This is especially acute in the finance and accounting field, as a 2021 study found 

A report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that $223 billion every five years is lost to turnover due to poor workplace culture and toxic work environments. And talent consultancy Korn Ferry found in an executive survey that “the vast majority of respondents (84%) say a lack of attention on diversity and inclusion contributes to employee turnover.”  

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is key to addressing many of these challenges—and investing in training and resources for mid-level finance leadership is essential. It’s here in the middle where the workplace culture and day-to-day experiences of most employees are shaped. And it’s also here where careers of historically marginalized talent advance…or derail. Expanding the skill set of mid-level leaders so they are better equipped to engage in thoughtful, high impact empathic conversations, conduct quality performance evaluations and, if necessary, performance improvement plans, will heighten trust and engagement, and reduce attrition. More importantly, it will create a more robust bench of future leaders that would increase representation at all levels within the organization.  

Mentor New Associates and New Managers 

Mid-level finance leaders play a pivotal role in shaping careers. However, it can be challenging for managers to find their footing and voice, especially when they’re new to managing people, not just projects. Guidance and feedback from a mentor can be a big boost in terms of building their overall business and leadership acumen. Organizations should also consider incorporating mentoring programs as part of their onboarding process, particularly for historically marginalized talent. These types of programs demonstrate an early investment in career development and reflects an organization’s commitment to an inclusive and supportive workplace culture.  

At its core, mentoring consists of three main components: the mentor, the mentee, and the relationship. The mentor is an individual with extensive experience and success across a given domain who is looking to impart their knowledge to a protege. The protege, or mentee, is less experienced and looking to learn from someone they trust. The mentoring relationship allows this transfer of knowledge, skill, and experience to occur in a contextually rich, emotionally safe environment. The relationship is personal; both parties have skin in the game and work together to develop, and track progress against an action plan focused on helping the mentee reach their highest potential.  

Mentoring relationships can happen both on their own and by establishing a more formalized program that provides employees with access to it. Through these types of programs, organizations show they are committed to the personal and professional growth of their workforce. Think of it as providing a support system that empowers and encourages employees to do their best and be their best selves. An environment which leads to a more productive and engaging workplace for everyone. 

Use coaching to upskill. 

Coaching programs, on the other hand, provide targeted training for specific skills, whether it is leadership development, emotional intelligence, or giving constructive feedback. Let’s use the latter as an example. We all know feedback is critical to performance improvement, but for many, engaging in evaluation discussions may be easier said than done. Some managers are uncomfortable with giving feedback; layering in a possible new direct report relationship, or the need to conduct a difficult discussion surrounding improvement, makes it that much harder. A series of coaching sessions can provide the proper training, tools, and resources for a manager to deliver a more robust assessment that assists direct reports with making meaningful course corrections to improve their performance.  

Coaches are invited into an organization to evaluate and train in areas that are key to success—of a particular group of people or the enterprise at large.  Importantly, coaching programs can be implemented at any level within the organization. Having a highly trained workforce upskilled with the tools needed for a modern accountant is a distinctive competitive advantage.  

Where do you start? 

There are many factors to consider, and questions to answer, when looking to establish a mentoring and/or coaching program. What are you hoping to achieve? What is the program designed to do? Who’s involved, invited, or expected to partake? What are the key performance indicators for success? Flesh out your strategy first, then plan for it. Remember, a focus on historically marginalized talent should not be to the exclusion of everyone else. Everyone should have a level playing field to thrive.  

That said, here’s my message to leaders: we know firms that invest in DE&I increase their operational and financial performance.  We also know it is more difficult to replace than it is to find talent. Don’t just focus on recruiting; place a greater emphasis on retaining diverse talent; invest in a more holistic approach by developing both the person and the professional. Reimagine training and upskilling that supports building competencies, health/well-being, and career advancement. Most importantly, create a culturally competent workplace where inclusion and engagement are the guiding principles.  

Nikki Watson Pierce is the Director of Sales, Corporate Channel at Becker Professional Education