Defining DEI is an important step to enabling meaningful conversations within your accounting firm. We sat down with Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, the founder and owner of bbr companies, to discuss her upcoming training on Defining Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, June 22, 2021 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET. This webinar is open to AAM members and non-members for no additional charge, and all are encouraged to attend, including partners and other firm management outside of marketing.
Tell us about your DEI journey so far, how did you get to where you are today?
DEI has always been important to me. I remember being in the 3rd grade and getting teased because my best friend was a black boy in our class. That is the moment I remember becoming painfully aware of how we were perceived differently due to our race. It’s also hard to live in Atlanta, down the road from Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and not be aware of the civil rights movement and how it continues today. Last year, after George Floyd’s murder, I took a careful look at myself and decided that I wanted to be a part of positive change in the best way I could. After researching multiple programs, I decided to put my money and time where my mouth was – so to speak – and registered for Cornell University’s Diversity & Inclusion Certificate program. Since getting my certificate in the fall of 2020, I have been reading, studying and writing on the topic, as well as delivering training for a handful of firms and associations.
Describe your goals as a member of AAM’s DEI committee?
Cheryl Foster and I were co-chairs of the AAM DEI Taskforce that started last fall. The goal of that group, and now the larger committee, is to make sure that DEI is more than today’s hot topic but an opportunity to create resources and conversation starters for firms to fundamentally change their cultures in a positive way. We started by helping to write AAM’s DEI statement, surveyed members to find out where they are in their firms and what they need to move forward, and created an aggressive list of deliverables that the committee is now working on. I’m excited by the passion I see among the committee’s members and how hard each person is working to provide our members’ firms with the information, resources and training they need to take small steps toward creating more diverse and inclusive firms which will lead to more a more diverse and inclusive profession as a whole.
What can we expect to walk away from this Defining DEI webinar with a deeper understanding of?
Knowing that DEI is a process, not an event, we wanted to start off by defining the many terms that are used when talking about the topic. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what they mean, and often that can lead to defensive reactions from people. So we are going to define terms like diversity, equity and inclusion, but also go into topics like privilege, microaggressions, allies and unconscious bias. We will also talk about how creating a diverse and inclusive culture can impact our firms in terms of revenue, recruiting and innovation. I plan to include videos to help explain concepts and encourage questions and conversations as well.
What advice do you have for those at firms that are just beginning their DEI journeys?
Don’t try to turn the freighter around in one day. Culture changes take time and need to be approached carefully and thoughtfully. It is often best to start out by having an outside resource survey your entire firm to see where you are now and give everyone an opportunity to share freely about how inclusive the firm is, how they are treated and where they feel improvements can be made. This will often help you map out your next steps in terms of training, creating an internal DEI committee, and seeing where you need to focus your efforts and resources. Then start making small changes that will lead to big shifts over time. Also realize that not everyone will be “all in” on the effort, but do make sure you have buy-in from the firm’s leadership, or at least some influential members of the leadership team. Know that it will be work, generate some uncomfortable conversations and require commitment, but the end results is well worth it for all involved.
For more information and to register for the training, visit DEI Training: Defining Diversity, Equity & Inclusion on the Association for Accounting Marketing website, and invite others within your firm to join you.
About Sarah Stage
Sarah Stage is Director of Marketing at Insero & Co. CPAs where she focuses on digital marketing strategies for firm growth.