Exploring the Role of Employee Resource Groups in Driving Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



Driving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within the profession has really only gained momentum within recent years, as it has become evident that racial diversity has remained practically stagnant since the 1970s, particularly among African American CPAs. While the profession is predominantly populated by women (60%), it is overwhelmingly led by men and overwhelmingly white (67.3% of all accountants)1. What those statistics do not include, however, is what percentage of CPAs are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex and asexual and/or ally (LGBTQIA+). That is because the first ever survey of CPAs inquiring about sexual orientation was just administered in October 20202

DeChellis Giacomo-20
De Chellis

Continuing recent coverage by the MICPA, which focused on gender and racial DE&I, we sat down with MICPA member Giacomo “Jack” De Chellis, CPA, MBA, CGMA, and Beaumont Health senior director of research operations and chair of the LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG), to discuss why acknowledgement is the foundation of inclusion and the role of ERGs in driving DE&I among the LGBTQIA+ community in healthcare, accounting and beyond. First, however, imagine not being acknowledged in something as simple as a survey until now, right now, in the 21stcentury.

Acknowledgement, or lack thereof, Jack recalls, is what prevented him from being his authentic self at work early in his career. “I did not feel safe at that time to come out. It was a different era,” De Chellis says of his early years in the profession working at one of the now Big 4 accounting firms. “There was nothing around me that said anything about the LGBTQIA community or recognition of any type of commitment to this type of equality. Even the corporate mission statement didn’t include sexual orientation until after I was there for quite a while.”

Which is why he now works so hard as the volunteer chair of Beaumont’s LGBTQ+ ERG. “Acknowledgement and action,” De Chellis says. “That’s what the ERG does.”

“It provides its membership opportunities for social interaction, mentoring and discussion outside of normal workplace hours. It coordinates Beaumont’s presence at various Pride and community events and has hosted picnics, museum visits, bowling and film nights and other activities.”

In addition to employee support, the ERG also works to provide resources for the LGBTQ+ community at large. De Chellis explains, “We heard from the community that they wanted a provider referral list. That seems like something simple, but it isn’t because there are potential political ramifications to asking providers: Are you providing a culturally sensitive, affirming environment?”

The aforementioned list consists of providers that openly offer an inclusive environment in their practices. The ERG De Chellis chairs collaborated with Medical Administration to compose and distribute a survey to all Beaumont credentialed practitioners to gather that information and gain their consent to be part of the living document. Fortunately, the ERG was able to conduct their survey and the list is now accessible on the Beaumont website under the “Find a Doctor” link and includes over 200 practitioners.

Incredibly, the work done to compose the list continues to carry forward. “Our work with the ERG also initiated change elsewhere.” De Chellis explains how a chance meeting with another ERG volunteer at a competitor’s healthcare system led to a conversation about wanting a similar provider list for their LGBTQ+ patients, except their administration would not approve the undertaking. “Their organization had the same concerns as ours [about politics].” When De Chellis divulged their ERG already had a list, his colleague took it to show their leaders. “They emailed me back and said ‘Thank you for sharing that with me. Leadership, when they saw you were doing it, are now willing to take the risk and are allowing us to do it.”

Further, the ERG also collaborated to create the SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) educational modules utilized in Beaumont’s medical records system and available on the ERG webpage. In further pursuit of fostering an inclusive culture, the ERG also forged alliances and initiatives with other LGBTQ+ organizations addressing the unique concerns and health care needs of the LGBTQ+ population.

Bringing it back to the workforce in general as well as your clients, De Chellis reiterates the importance of acknowledgement. “When we talk about recruitment and retention...retaining people is all about acknowledgement,” De Chellis says. “By the very existence of the ERG, we are saying: We acknowledge you. We understand that you exist. And we are working to improve our services for you. That’s how it makes a difference, it’s part of that whole acknowledgement mechanism that all the experts talk about.”

For those interested in starting an ERG at their organization, De Chellis recommends starting the process by assigning someone as a diversity and inclusion officer, also to look externally and see what other progressive organizations are doing. He adds, “Just asking questions of your executives and management team in terms of what types of social justice goals they are advocating for or working toward outside of the office to see if any of those things might be an opportunity to sponsor or support as an organization, including forming an employee resource group.”

Finally, when considering how to be a good ally during Pride month and the rest of the year, De Chellis suggests, “Individuals can be an ally by donating to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign which is the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ lobby group in Washington, D.C., or one of the many local organizations such as Affirmations in Ferndale, Stand with Trans or the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit.”

Another simple way to show support is by displaying a pride flag or sticker on or around your home or business “It lets your LGBTQ+ neighbors know that you’re affirming,” De Chellis explains. “We’re always worried when we move to a new home: How is this going to play in this neighborhood?”

Leaders and businesses can become an ally by lobbying for human rights interests, updating policies and mission statements to include sexual identity and orientation, recognizing Pride month and not being afraid to get political when a hate crime occurs in the news. Acknowledgement, again, plays a role in showing that your leadership, and your business, is not afraid to address those hot-button issues related to human rights and stand against injustice.

“Corporations, businesses, need to take a stand and take a side,” De Chellis says. “I am compelled to do what I can to assure the same rights, protections, privileges, courtesies, standards and consistency of care and behavior toward those in the minority that those in the majority might often take for granted.”

De Chellis explains that much of his advocacy is fueled by words spoken in 1986 by Elie Wiesel, human rights advocate, author and holocaust survivor, as he accepted a Nobel Prize: “And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever, wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Do you want to get involved with driving DE&I in the profession? Ask us how to become a member of the MICPA DEI Task Force. Plus, discover more members stories like this in our weekly MICPA newsletter or join the conversation on MICPA Connect.

  1. Iacone, Amanda. “Fifty Years, Little Progress for Black Accountants.Bloomberg Tax. 8 Jul 2019. Accessed on 10 Jun 2021.
  2. Bajko, Matthew S. “Business Briefs: Accounting Field Launches First LGBTQ Survey.Bay Area Reporter. 7 Oct 2020. Accessed on 10 Jun 2021.

Source: MICPA

 Back to List