Create a Culture Committed to Diversity and Inclusion 

by Richard Caturano, CPA, CGMA 

I first took up diversity and inclusion as a key initiative while serving as the AICPA Chair of the Board in 2012. During my tenure as chair, I learned and spoke a lot about the importance of diversity and inclusion to our profession. As trusted advisers, it is increasingly crucial that we are representative of the population we are serving. Historically, minorities have been highly underrepresented in CPA firms, especially in leadership positions. Women are more widely represented in entry level positions, but those numbers also decline as you go up the leadership chain. However, when I speak about diversity, I mean more than just race or gender. True diversity means diversity in every sense, from generational to cultural to diverse ways of thinking. Embracing diversity in this sense positions your firm to remain robust and relevant.

Often, diversity is reduced to simply “checking a box” or “meeting a quota”, but this is not the correct approach. A sense of inclusion is necessary for any diversity initiative to be successful and sustainable.  Diversity and inclusion should be engrained to the culture of your firm. Success in these areas is measured by not only the makeup of your talent pipeline, but also by how engaged those employees are and how included they feel. Once you have cultivated a diverse workforce, it must also be nurtured.

Leadership Buy-In is Key
After completing my term as chair, I took the knowledge that I had gained back to the CEO of my firm to discuss how we could integrate diversity and inclusion into our firm’s strategy. We worked to develop a reporting structure that gave diversity and inclusion a seat at the leadership table. I became a direct report to the CEO so that we could ensure diversity and inclusion was given consideration in all of the firm’s strategic initiatives.

Our strategy for this change mission is based on best practices from the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. We utilize a comprehensive, four-pronged approach that encompasses the workplace, workforce, marketplace and community. We built a full-time team that devotes a full-time effort to diversity and inclusion. In the early stages, we would invite diverse individuals from the firm to get input in focus group meetings. We have since set up a number of employee resource groups, which are representative of all different elements of diversity, that meet regularly. These groups then report back to an executive council that consists of a cross section of leadership from throughout the firm. This input helps guide the firm, and has been highly successful in both giving a voice to diversity and inclusion and ensuring its need and importance are understood by the firm leadership.

A successful commitment to diversity and inclusion has to come from the top. It is especially important to engage the white male leadership of the firm. Often you find that this demographic thinks that diversity is not something they can or should get involved with, however the reality is quite the contrary. Diversity and inclusion needs the support of ALL leadership and management in order to be truly effective.

Rely on the Resources Available
I strongly encourage firms who are looking to increase their commitment to diversity and inclusion to rely on the resources that are available to you. The AICPA, in particular, has a wealth of knowledge and tools that are extremely useful for firms of all sizes. The toolkit they have developed has been instrumental in getting our firm where we are today in terms of diversity and inclusion. I also encourage firms to make that commitment today. It’s never too late to begin that change mission within your own firm. As we become more global as a profession, we need that cultural dexterity that diversity and inclusion brings.

RSM US, LLP is a Top 5 US firm with offices around the globe. Richard Caturano, CPA, CGMA is a partner and serves as the firm’s National Leader of Culture, Diversity and Inclusion.


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