Equity’s Place in Core Business

28April 2021

A leader in corporate diversity and inclusion, RSM shares tips and resources for ensuring equity remains a foundational facet of your business.

For middle-market-focused tax, auditing, and consulting firm RSM, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is one of the many vital facets of running a successful business, equally as important as finances or marketing.

To ensure it stays that way, RSM’s more than 900 professionals in Minnesota and nearly 10,000 professionals across North America are supported by a team of dedicated DE&I experts. RSM has eight professionals whose jobs are to work on DE&I efforts full time on a company-wide scale, plus 12 employee network groups (ENGs), several diversity and inclusion advisory teams, and many culture, diversity, and inclusion (CDI) regional and local leaders.

But RSM’s efforts don’t stop inside the company’s own offices. In addition to guiding internal growth, RSM’s CDI regional and local leaders also advise and assist RSM’s clients on running inclusive businesses too. In 2017, RSM CEO Joe Adams took the pledge to become part of CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Most recently, RSM launched the Middle Market Collaborative for Understanding, a group that will come together to actively enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations and across the broader middle market business community by reviewing insights and sharing ideas and best practices to take back to their teams.

Not only is strengthening DE&I the moral thing for businesses to do, says Mary Beth Ruthford, RSM’s DE&I leader for the north central region and director of client experience at RSM Minneapolis, but it’s also better for business. “Research shows that diverse companies grow faster and are more competitive, profitable, and effective, and that having a diverse staff and an inclusive culture is increasingly vital to attracting and retaining employees.”

While not every company has been as focused on DE&I efforts for as long as RSM, the past year’s events, like the untimely death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots, have reignited conversation and action for many. No company is perfect when it comes to DE&I, says Ruthford, but as companies across the nation and beyond work towards progress, they should be sharing and learning from each other in the process.

In that spirit, Ruthford shares some tips and resources from RSM that other companies can use to grow their equity and inclusivity too:

Understand where you’re at and where you want to go. You need to understand where you are personally, encourage your employees to do the same, and stay on top of the DE&I metrics of your business, Ruthford says. Monitor your company’s racial and gender diversity and hiring practices and compare those metrics with those of the community and other companies in the industry to see how you stack up and where you can improve.

Company culture starts at the top. Leaders must be engaged, educated, and supportive of DE&I in order for it to become a staple of overall company culture, Ruthford says. “At RSM, our leaders really do walk the walk and talk the talk, and they’re engaged in this work inside and outside of the firm. That’s extremely important.”

Have “courageous conversations.” It’s important for businesses and organizations to facilitate what RSM calls “courageous conversations,” or conversations focused on DE&I that demonstrate caring and curiosity, drive collaboration, and use critical thinking to deepen learning and foster understanding. For more information, check out RSM’s Courageous Conversation Guide at rsmus.com/courageous-conversations.

Provide open employee network groups (ENGs). Encourage and facilitate ENGs, or voluntary groups of employees that come together based on shared identities or life experiences, Ruthford says. ENGs are also a great place to have “courageous conversations.”

“All of RSM’s ENGs are open to everyone, so for example, you don’t have to be a woman to join the women’s ENG,” she says. “That’s really intentional because first, these groups are about inclusion, and second, the groups have really proven to be a really great way for people to get educated and hear people talking about issues that really matter.”

Go beyond conversation in ENGs with an annual project plan for how each group can help their talent, organization, and community continue to make progress.

Move from conversation to action.“On an individual level, the first step begins with checking your own personal bias. Then you can build from there and help others check theirs, shining a light if and when you see bias in the workplace. The more you actively think about and work to overcome bias, the easier it tends to become to foster an inclusive and equitable culture. How you tackle this at the organizational level is obviously going to depend on what’s important to your firm and your people—and sometimes to your customers,” Ruthford says. “But there are so many ways to get involved.” Continuing conversations outside of the workplace, donating time and resources to charities with DE&I missions your company supports, launching partnerships with and investing in other diverse organizations, and making sure your own organization stays on track are just a few of the ways for companies to turn conversation into action.

Other Resources for
DE&I Assessment

Harvard University’s Project Implicit



RSM’s Resources for Racial
Understanding and Inclusion



American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)’s Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model


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