At RSM US LLP (RSM), we believe inclusion starts with “I.” This means that each of our 13,000+ professionals across the U.S. and in Canada is committed to doing our part to advance racial understanding and inclusion across our firm and within the 87 communities where our people live and work, including here in Los Angeles.

To support our activities, we recently launched the Middle Market Collaborative for Understanding, a group of middle market organizations working together to actively advance inclusion and racial understanding within our own organizations and the broader middle market business community. The Collaborative is a peer group of middle market executives who are similarly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in business. We also share our internal resources for the benefit of our clients and others who want to drive meaningful change and create a more equitable future.

There are two critical components for fostering greater equity and understanding: allyship and courageous conversations.  

Organizations have an opportunity to take action by investing in and engaging as allies in matters relating to race. Demonstrating care and being curious, driving collaboration and using critical thinking courageously fosters understanding and deepens learning and influences skeptics.

People who think of themselves as allies benefit because they have more frequent and effective conversations with others. This has important social, institutional and organizational impact. To help foster allyship, we teach our leaders and our teams about it at RSM, and we designed an ally priorities list in response to our employee network group member requests. Those priorities are:

• Take action to create moments of the “valued community” that include fellowship between whites and people of color
• Serve as a collaborative leader for others while working for institutional understanding
• Work on personal interactions with all people of color so your behavior does not reflect unconscious bias or privilege blind spots
• Give and get peer support from other allies as you model inclusive behavior
• Intervene if you witness racially problematic statements or behaviors
• Convert more allies by helping people understand that racism is an important issue and that they are part of the solution
• Manage your own learning path as an ally
• Make lifestyle and personal choices that reflect your passion for racial equity
• Support equity efforts with money or time
• Manage your online presence and your communication within your organization to promote inclusion using empathy and perspective-taking to build trust

The second critical component for fostering equity and understanding is courageous conversations. These types of honest discussions form the basis for deeper understanding. They challenge us to push ourselves beyond what is comfortable and to hear a variety of perspectives to encourage empathy and inclusiveness.

To hold a courageous conversation, it’s important to abide by certain ground rules and principles. To create a safe space for candor, honesty, perspective taking and understanding, all participants should:  
• Assume positive intent.
• Consider their voice important in educating others on the journey to inclusion.
• Extend empathy and suspend reactions to the shared views and comments of others.
• Be open to understanding.
• Lean in, ask questions and seek common ground when discussing differing perspectives.
• Give feedback that will help individuals, teams and the group grow.
When engaging in courageous conversations, participants should:
• Stay engaged. This means, “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually and socially involved the dialogue.
• Expect to experience discomfort. Discomfort is inevitable, especially in dialogue about race. Participants make a commitment to bring issues into the open, as not talking about these issues creates divisiveness. It’s though dialogue, even when uncomfortable, that healing and change can begin.
• Speak your truth. This means being open about thoughts and feelings, and not just saying what you think others want to hear.
• Expect and accept no closure. This
agreement asks participants to “hang out
in uncertainty,” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing action and consideration.

Joseph Mazza is Los Angeles and Southwest Market leader at RSM US LLP. Ken Le is principal, risk consulting and Los Angeles CDI leader at RSM US LLP. For more on how to drive meaningful change and create a more equitable future, we encourage you to read RSM’s Resources for Racial Understanding and Inclusion at RSMUS.com.

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