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#OpenUpTheWorkforce With Rachael Gibson, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Crowe

Written by Ellen Zhang on January 24, 2024
5 min read

Presented by Symba, #OpenUpTheWorkforce interviews feature executives advancing inclusion, diversity, and equity for the future of work. In these short audio-only episodes, host Ahva Sadeghi speaks with top leaders about what it takes to develop and implement inclusive processes. 

In this episode of #OpenUpTheWorkforce, Ahva speaks to Rachael Gibson, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Crowe. Rachael gives a sneak peek of her career journey, from a management consultancy role to leading DEI efforts at Crowe. She discusses why self-reporting can enhance accountability toward DEI commitments, and shares best practices for empowering women in the workplace. Rachael also talks about how Crowe leverages employee resource groups in policy making, how DEI leaders can pitch the business case for continued investment, and more. Listen to the entire episode here!

Rachael’s Career Journey

Rachael’s career kicked off with stints in consulting, primarily focused on organizational strategy, leadership, and DEI. When she graduated from grad school, there weren’t as many formal DEI programs as there are now, so she had to really pick things up on the job. She ended up stepping out of her work in client services at Marcum LLP to transition into DEI, and helped establish the DEI function. In October 2022, Rachael joined Crowe as Deputy Chief/Firmwide DEI leader, later becoming Crowe’s Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer in April 2023. In this role, Rachael continues to leverage her change management skills to drive positive change and build committed teams.

DEI Reporting: Crowe’s 2023 U.S. DEI Transparency Report

Crowe recently released its 2023 U.S. Transparency Report on DEI. The report is inspired by Crowe’s “North Star”–to build, promote, and sustain an inclusive and equitable work

environment that inspires and enables their people to be their best every day. The report's intent is not so much as to claim perfection, Rachael asserts, but to challenge the company to work harder towards its North Star. 

In essence, the report serves the following purposes:

  • Promote transparency: The report helps Crowe to be transparent with stakeholders, including employees, clients, and potential candidates.
  • Demonstrate pervasiveness of DEI efforts: DEI isn’t simply a program for the DEI team alone, but a multifaceted effort and investment across the organization.
  • Share best practices: The report serves as a toolkit for other organizations and DEI practitioners to learn from and share with each other. As Rachael states, “no one firm or individual has the secret sauce.”
  • A pat on the back: Finally, the report seeks to celebrate everyone at Crowe for their efforts toward equity.

Publicly sharing DEI hits and misses takes a great deal of mettle. For organizational leaders looking to emulate Crowe’s reporting template, Rachael has a piece of advice: get over the fear that you’re not doing enough. Again, it’s not about perfection, but the positive steps. Communicating your journey also comes with a bonus —  fostering accountability by putting leaders on the spot for their promises and stated values. When leaders are held accountable for their commitments, there is likely to be progress and a win-win outcome for stakeholders.

Leveraging Technology in DEI Initiatives

Investing in the right technology is critical in enabling DEI leaders and stakeholders to track the progress of DEI initiatives, or lack thereof. Rachael advises companies to build an infrastructure to collect and analyze data. Crowe has a dashboard that enables Rachael and the team to monitor people's demographics in real time. The dashboard can also disaggregate data to understand how certain groups are faring, informing the firm’s DEI strategy. As Rachael puts it, data helps Crowe to be agile in a constantly changing DEI landscape.

Demonstrating ROI for DEI

DEI initiatives have come under fire recently, from the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision to Elon Musk’s declaration that ‘DEI must DIE’. For DEI leaders who are just getting started, demonstrating ROI of their initiatives need not be an impossible job, especially with so much research out there. Rachael alludes to studies that have shown how diverse leadership teams impact the bottom-line, or how a more inclusive team allows for better ideas. What DEI leaders need to do is to interpret and communicate this data in a way that stakeholders will hear and digest. Such communication, Rachael states, doesn't have to be one-size-fits all, but customized to the different audiences. For instance, some audiences are interested in knowing how DEI will affect their work or reporting lines. Communicate to this audience in a way that makes sense to them, while keeping in mind that DEI work may not be as intuitive to everyone as it is to practitioners.

Crowe on Campus Internship Program

With less students entering the accounting program in general, including Black and Hispanic students, early careers is an important initiative for Crowe. One of their programs, Crowe on Campus brings internships to students on their college campuses. The program allows students to engage in actual work experiences in a designated Crowe on Campus classroom throughout their college journey, starting as early as sophomore year. Crowe on Campus offers flexibility, enabling students to create work schedules based on their class schedules, and fosters collaboration as they learn from both peers and on-site supervisors. Students can also undergo multiple internships during their undergraduate years, preparing them well for future professional positions. 

Florida A&M University was the first HBCU (Historically Black College and University) partner for Crowe on Campus, and they’ve since expanded to work with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Several of the students who have gone through the program have joined the company full-time, aligning with Crowe's ultimate goal of building a more diverse talent pipeline for both the firm and the profession as a whole. 

Empowering Women at Crowe

Crowe has been named as one of the best workplaces for women by Fortune. Rachael shares the various initiatives to support women within the organization that have contributed to this amazing feat. Crowe provides opportunities for women to connect through mentoring circles and professional development workshops. There are also programs tailored for women at the senior management level to help them expand their networks, enhance leadership skills, and prepare them for progression to the partner-director track. Crowe believes that representation matters, and showcasing diverse women at all levels of the firm is crucial. Women leaders are also encouraged to share their unique career journeys, which send a profound and empowering message to the rest of the workforce.

Employee Resource Groups at Crowe

Crowe’s Business Resource Groups (BRGs) are aligned with the overall DEI strategy of the firm, ensuring that their activities are cohesive and supportive of the broader organizational goals. Besides their primary responsibilities, BRGs are mandated to engage in intersectional programming and their budgets are even aligned with how much they’re collaborating with other groups.

What distinguishes Crowe BRGs is their involvement in driving policy changes and informing organizational strategy. For instance, the Pride BRG and Caregivers BRG collaborate closely with HR to develop a bespoke benefits’ policy. The Disabilities BRG also takes the lead in enhancing inclusivity and support for individuals with disabilities.

What is it in for BRG leaders at Crowe? Rachael states BRG leadership is seen as a career accelerator for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. BRG leaders are viewed as potential partners within the firm. The role not only helps them elevate the needs of the diverse population, but also helps them build networks and hone their leadership skills.

How to Open Up the Workforce

To truly open up the workforce, Rachael suggests two approaches. The first is enhancing transparency. She says achieving equal access to jobs and wealth generation can be challenging when rules are not clear for everyone. Organizations need to provide individuals with clear information and empower them to make informed decisions.

Secondly, she doubles down on data and data aggregation. Equity cannot be achieved without a deep understanding of data. For instance, It's not enough to only examine overall pay gaps between men and women. A better approach would be disaggregating data to identify disparities, even within groups. Such an approach can help organizations pinpoint areas that require targeted interventions, fostering a more equitable environment in terms of job opportunities and wealth creation.

Final Word

Rachael wraps up by giving DEI leaders a clarion call for self-care. DEI work can be draining both physically and emotionally. Building a supportive community can help these leaders weather the storm, re-energize, and continue serving their companies effectively.

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Ellen Zhang

Ellen is the Chief Marketing Officer at Symba. Prior to Symba, Ellen worked in the cybersecurity industry, marketing data loss prevention (DLP) and cyber insurance solutions. She graduated from Boston College with a degree focused on Marketing and Information Systems.

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