United States

New RSM coalition fosters open conversations on diversity, inclusion


At RSM US LLP, a culture of equity, belonging and opportunity is one of the firm’s leading priorities. That is why RSM in February launched The Middle Market Collaborative for Understanding (MMCU), a coalition of organizations working to advance diversity and inclusion through meaningful conversation, the sharing of best practices, and the encouragement and advancement across participants.

The Collaborative’s first meeting on March 8 focused on the responsibilities of executive leadership in furthering diversity, equity and inclusion. The guest speaker, author Jennifer Brown, discussed the four stages of personal diversity, equity and inclusion development as outlined in her book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader. Those stages are “unaware,” “aware,” “active” and finally, “advocate,” illustrating the journey leaders take from being in denial that change is needed, to being consciously inclusive and equitable.

Collaborative participants located themselves on this model, and used it as a benchmark during breakout discussions to decide where to make changes and set goals. One focal point of the discussion was how attendees could structure their organizations to effect positive change. Solutions included serving one’s community, being an ally to marginalized individuals, actively listening and participating in activities outside of the organization.

Inclusion has moved beyond a “nice to have” objective to a business imperative. Member organizations of The Collaborative work together through quarterly meetings and ongoing conversations to advance knowledge and initiatives focused on developing inclusive practices. The meetings feature thought leaders sharing best practices, lessons learned and actionable insights, plus breakout sessions for further discussion.

Together, the 14 inaugural Collaborative members, including Energage, Hero Digital Holdings, Paper Source, Pacific Coast Capital Partners and Pohlad Companies, will grow and bring new and enhanced skills and insights back to their own organizations to enact real change.

“If you don’t have leaders that are authentic in their behavior, efforts for inclusion won’t resonate at the workforce level,” Tracey Walker, RSM National Senior Director of Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, noted in her opening remarks.

Brown expanded on this point, saying that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are “a head and a heart endeavor.” Leaders, in particular, must be personally engaged and committed to creating a safe, authentic work environment by starting courageous conversations.

Brown also spoke about the concept of “covering,” when someone downplays a known stigmatized identity to avoid discrimination or microaggressions. She emphasized that having courageous conversations is the first step in making space for everyone’s authentic selves in the workplace.

In breakout sessions, attendees pointed out that sharing personal stories goes a long way in creating an inclusive environment. Participants also expressed that employee resource groups foster inclusive work environments by helping people make connections with those who are like them while learning about those who are different from them. The feeling of affinity created by employee resource groups is particularly important when people are working remotely; establishing those connections can be even more challenging.

Throughout the course of the conversation and at its conclusion, there was agreement among participants that it is not enough to not be part of the problem—we must be part of the solution.

RSM CEO Joe Adams summed it up: “I thought I knew a lot going in, but the more I listen and get involved, the more I see there is more to learn.” The Collaborative seeks to learn the best way to be part of the solution.

Diversity and inclusion at RSM

The Middle Market Collaborative for Understanding is only one of the steps RSM has taken toward improving racial understanding and equity. RSM’s 12 Employee Network Groups provide spaces for employees to better connect, understand and advocate together. RSM has also shared resources for inclusiveness, including a guide to courageous conversations, which is available to the firm’s clients and others, as these types of dialogues are necessary when discussing race and diversity in meaningful ways. Courageous conversations were at the heart of The Collaborative’s inaugural meeting, setting the tone for future interactions where discussions will help members understand one another’s perspectives more fully and ultimately lead to positive change.

Learn how you can engage with The Middle Market Collaborative for Understanding here.