2020 was a turbulent year in many ways. In May, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis shocked the world and sparked worldwide protests led by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to highlight systematic racism and injustice. The civil unrest further highlighted the need for organisations to address diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues. RSM UK’s newly appointed D&I manager, Sandra Myers-Edwards speaks to Joe Pickard about the initiative, and the benefits an organisation can expect from appointing a D&I manager
The Accountant: Congratulations on your appointment. What will be your first actions and priorities in your new role on a practical level?
Sandra Myers-Edwards: The findings from our firm-wide D&I Survey last year provided us with valuable insights on the experiences of our employees. We shall be continuing the discussion on many of these topics through regional virtual focus groups in early 2021 to inform future inclusion initiatives across the business.
Continuing to develop a culture of inclusion is a key priority for us as an organisation, and fostering allyship within the firm is central to that. Our new unconscious bias training explains the role of an ally, which is currently being rolled out across the business. We shall also be further embedding a wider culture of allyship across the firm with the support of our various employee networks.
We are committed to increasing the attraction, recruitment and retention of disabled people, and continuing our conversations on RSM’s disability inclusion agenda. Raising awareness of the challenges faced and supporting disabled colleagues to develop their talent is an important aspect of our inclusion strategy.
Finally, we will be strengthening our internal engagement strategy with our employees to ensure we continue the D&I progress we have made.
TA: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on D&I initiatives?
SM-E: The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on our D&I initiatives as we were unable to host in-person events; however, we moved to a virtual engagement strategy to ensure we did not lose momentum, and continued to invest in our D&I agenda.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we have made it an important priority to support our employees and have increased our investment in mental and well-being initiatives, introduced new ways of working and supported working families.
The pandemic continues to affect us all, and has amplified the inequities experienced by communities in the UK. Now more than ever, continuing to develop a culture of inclusion and belonging for our employees at RSM is important, as our people are what makes us a success.
TA: What influence have the global demonstrations led by the BLM movement last summer had on D&I initiatives?
SM-E: The BLM movement last summer had a huge impact on D&I initiatives in the workplace, in many ways.
Firstly, many organisations showed their support by releasing statements in solidarity to the movement which was a massive turning point. Secondly, it put race on board and leadership agendas for discussion and action. Thirdly, organisations have had to look at their own policies, practices and workplace culture and ask the question: what were their black employees experiencing in the workplace? Did they feel included and have a sense of belonging? Sometimes that meant having uncomfortable conversations about race and inequity.
Lastly, witnessing global solidarity on this issue left many individuals to reflect on their own behaviours and how they can become allies to facilitate change in the workplace and society. At RSM, our CEO, Rob Donaldson, sent a communication to all our employees showing solidarity and the firm’s commitment to inclusion.
We set up BLM discussion groups that provided safe spaces for our ethnically diverse employees to share their experiences. It has given our employees an opportunity to reflect and take active steps to help facilitate change for a more equitable workplace. The BLM discussion group is now our Black Employee Network (BEN) Group and is progressing initiatives on this agenda. It has demonstrated the willingness by others to learn, reflect and be on the collective journey of inclusion within the firm.
TA: Are you working with any external groups to help promote and improve D&I in the profession?
SM-E: We are committed to improving D&I in the profession and have several external partnerships. As a professional firm we recognise the importance of creating access to the profession for young people from all backgrounds, as well as supporting social mobility. We have established partnerships with Access Accountancy and Leadership Through Sport for Business to provide placements within the firm.
TA: Can you tell me a little more about the Family First Group, which RSM UK is planning to launch?
SM-E: Leading on from our D&I survey, we wanted to expressly show our commitment to our working families and to better understand how we can continue to support our working parents throughout their career. We are looking to put together a discussion group which we will launch on the first anniversary of our Empower employee network, which happens to be on International Women’s Day, and will take the name Family First.
TA: Is the D&I manager a new position at RSM UK? If so, what led to its creation?
SM-E: The D&I manager role is not a new position within the firm, but demonstrates RSM’s continuing investment in D&I at a time when the temptation may be for some to deprioritise the agenda.
TA: What are the main benefits to a company in appointing a D&I leader?
SM-E: Although many organisations have made great strides in becoming more diverse and inclusive, within workplaces we are still on a journey to ensure all staff can bring their whole self to work.
Appointing a D&I leader is crucial for subject matter expertise in developing and implementing a D&I strategy linked to the organisation’s wider vision and business goals. Equally important is ensuring that the organisation is committed and actively engaged, particularly to increase the representation of under-represented groups throughout the organisation, but also to change behaviours and foster an inclusive culture in which diversity of thought is leveraged to drive stronger organisational performance.