Deborah DeHaas knows a thing or two about being a champion for diversity. She learned firsthand from her mother, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1951 with an accounting degree. At the time, she was one of the only women who opted for an accounting major at the university.
“It wasn’t a particularly friendly place for women at that time,” DeHaas said. “One of her accounting professors would hold up a drop card every day when she would walk into class, and suggest that maybe that was the day she should drop out because she couldn’t possibly cut it as a woman.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, this may have encouraged DeHaas’ mother to pursue her dream, DeHaas said.
Employing some of the same passion and drive, DeHaas graduated from Duke University with a degree in management science and accounting and started her career at accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1981. She said her career took off during a time when there was a dearth of women in the profession — let alone at the top — which meant making partner in 1993 was even more of an achievement. At the time there were fewer than 40 women in partnership roles globally.
Things haven’t changed significantly. DeHaas said she has worked for two women in her more than 30-year career. But she is no stranger to diverse mentoring and sponsorship relationships. Early in her career she turned to male mentors and sponsors to advise her on how to move up the ladder.
“They … helped ensure I received the right assignments, the challenging assignments that would help [me] grow as a professional,” she said. “The fact that many of them were willing to take a chance on me and to give me a seat at the table gave me an opportunity to observe and learn from a variety of different approaches and perspectives, which was incredibly helpful.”
Building a Diversity Identity
Today, DeHaas is vice chairman, central region managing partner and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte LLP. She said much has changed over the years in the profession and the firm, which she joined in 2002. For instance, it was an industry milestone when the number of female partners, principals and directors at Deloitte in the United States touched 1,000 in 2009; that number exceeds 1,100 today.
In April 2012 she was appointed to the new position of chief inclusion officer. In that role, she leads Deloitte’s efforts to advance women and minorities as well as developing and executing inclusion strategies for the firm. She also works closely with chief talent officer Jennifer Steinmann to ensure that inclusion strategies are tied to the firm’s overarching talent strategies.
“We look at the whole life cycle of talent — acquisition, retention and advancement — and we’ve aligned our key inclusion strategic areas against each of those parts,” she said. “As we think about our talent strategies, we think about how we promote inclusion; we don’t separate things that we do to focus on diversity or on advancing women. We’re thinking holistically: This is the way we do things at Deloitte University, not just the way we do things for women or for minorities.”
Diversity and inclusion are not foreign to Deloitte. The firm’s Women’s Initiative (WIN), a gender-focused effort to advance and retain women, began in 1993, and about a year later the firm launched its enterprise diversity efforts, which focused on dimensions of diversity including race/ethnicity, LGBT, armed forces and people with disabilities. Since then, Deloitte has amassed myriad accolades and served as a breeding ground for diverse top talent. Today, Deloitte’s CEO Joe Echevarria is Latino, and Chairman Punit Renjen is Indian.
“When I left Andersen in 2002 and was deciding which firm I was going to work for next, the fact that Deloitte had what I perceived to be a very inclusive culture … the fact that they had put so much emphasis on advancing women and minorities, that was a deciding factor for me in joining Deloitte,” DeHaas said.
In addition to attracting top talent, internal diversity also serves as a business advantage with clients. In certain instances clients will inquire about the diversity of the Deloitte teams that serve them. “Our clients have a very strong expectation that we are going to bring them diverse teams that very much reflect what their teams look like, which are increasingly diverse as well,” DeHaas said.
The Inclusion Umbrella
In October, Deloitte appointed four executives to its inclusion leadership team, which reflects its broadening of the term “inclusion.” Whereas the firm’s diversity efforts have previously focused on the WIN and diversity, the inclusion umbrella now covers new areas of focus such as flexibility, well-being and generational issues.
Deloitte’s workforce includes boomers, Gen X and Gen Y; the latter group makes up about half of the total employee population and is growing. As each generation deals with its own distinct issues and expectations, DeHaas said it’s important for the firm to include a generational element within the overarching inclusion strategy.
Beginning five years ago, in her role as a regional managing partner DeHaas started a Gen Y council within the firm. The idea was for Gen Yers to have a platform to voice issues important to them and offer suggestions on how different generations could work together effectively.
As part of the inclusion leadership team, the firm also named an executive to lead the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, which is slated to open early this year. The center will be part of Deloitte University, the firm’s campus for leadership development in Texas, which opened in October 2011.
“Deloitte University has become a place where connection happens at Deloitte, so to have [a] leadership center around inclusion there is such a great fit for us — taking inclusion to a higher level,” DeHaas said.
Establishing Work-Life Fit
Work-life fit is another burgeoning area at Deloitte. DeHaas has initiated a push in this arena because the firm’s talent survey and exit interviews indicate that for employees across the board — regardless of gender, age, race or ethnicity — this is increasingly important.
The need for what is known in some circles as work-life balance is not unique to Deloitte. Organizations across the U.S. are offering employees greater autonomy, or options on when and where they can do their work, according to the Families and Work Institute’s 2012 “National Study of Employers.”
“Flexibility has increased, telecommuting has increased, enabling employees to take time off during the day when personal and family issues arise,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute. “The impetus is different in each company — it could be absenteeism, it could be dealing with the hurricane, it could be to deal with real estate costs, but in general the largest reason … is retention of talent.”
Contrary to popular opinion, however, it’s inaccurate to label this increased flexibility as a women’s or maternity issue. A June report, the “New Male Mystique,” issued by the Families and Work Institute, points to increasing work-life conflict among men.
“It’s even more of a men’s issue than it is for women these days because the shift in wanting to be more involved in their families is a new shift among men,” Galinsky said.
When Deloitte first began to offer flexible work arrangements some 15 to 20 years ago, about a third of those who took advantage of the offering were men.
“[Women] tended to be the frontrunners that bring these sorts of issues or challenges to bear, but the reality is that these issues affect all of us,” said Paul H. Silverglate, partner and managing partner for work-life at Deloitte.
Silverglate, who has worked at Deloitte for 24 years, was the first male national director of the firm’s Women’s Initiative and was initially brought on board to offer a male perspective. However, the universality of some of the issues facing women — such as work-life fit — was soon evident.
“Over … time, all of us — male, female, [people of] different backgrounds will have something that comes up that causes us to need to be ultra-flexible in our career — whether that’s child care, taking care of an ailing relative, doing something different with your career,” he said.
Two decades ago, running a personal errand — getting a haircut, attending a child’s event — would have seemed taboo. Today flexibility is discussed more openly in the workplace, and has given rise to initiatives such as Deloitte’s Small Things Big Differences program, which the firm is piloting for a handful of client project teams.
“Managers work with staff to agree upon one simple thing that enhances career-life integration — an earlier start time to pick up kids from school or working from home one or two days per week to reduce a long commute to the office or client site,” Silverglate said. “It’s a concept to encourage the team to discuss specifically what flexibility [is] needed and then as a team to hold each other accountable to deliver on those flexibility needs.”
With work-life fit now part of the broader inclusion umbrella — along with elements of gender, diversity, generations and well-being — the goal going forward is to move beyond addressing diversity only among specific demographics and instead to focus on developing every individual within the organization in a holistic way.
In addition to working to raise the bar on the firm’s internal inclusion leadership team, DeHaas has committed time to promote diversity and inclusion in external organizations. She serves as a trustee for Northwestern University, and she is the nominating committee chairman and immediate past board chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. She also served as board chairman and is vice board chairman of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago; she served on the board of directors and was co-chairman of the development committee of Chicago 2016, which led the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games; not to mention her duties as a devoted soccer mom.
Despite a heavy roster of commitments, investing in the next generation of leaders remains a cause near and dear to DeHaas’ heart. She helped found the Winnetka Family Partnership, a group that helped fund the startup of a charter school on the west side of Chicago.
Her position at Deloitte puts her in the driver’s seat to effect change for those around her and behind her. “To have the opportunity to lead [inclusion] for Deloitte is something I’m excited about because it brings together so many things for me personally — I feel a responsibility to help advance women and minorities,” she said. “My success has been greatly influenced by those who invested time in me and who were willing to mentor and sponsor me, so the ability to pay that forward and really make an impact on the future is something I’m personally excited about.”