Executive leadership and DEI: How to be an inclusive leader

Middle Market Collaborative
Diversity, equity, inclusion ESG

At RSM, 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 of 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 “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 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 behaviour, efforts for inclusion won’t resonate at the workforce level,” Tracey Walker, RSM US’s 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 endeavour.” 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 with a stigmatized identity downplays that 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.

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 US’s 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 employee network groups provide spaces for employees to better connect, understand and advocate together. 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.

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A culture of diversity, equity and inclusion

Thousands of personalities make up RSM. Every member of our team brings unique insights and a passion for serving our middle market clients. Our inclusive workplace celebrates differences while enabling our people to take ownership of their work and personal lives.