Diversity Push Needs Executive Backing

Steve Almond, chairman of the global board of directors at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, or DTTL, works to improve diversity and inclusion in his company. Half of Deloitte’s 200,000 employees are women, as are half of the graduates hired every year, but that statistic doesn’t match the leadership positions within the business. Almond works with executives to demonstrate the business case for diversity and tries to set a personal example by mentoring those of different backgrounds and experiences.

Almond recently spoke with Diversity Executive. Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

Why is securing equality for women the right business decision rather than just a moral decision?

The business case is clear: diverse and balanced teams improve an organization’s performance. Research has shown that key qualities often attributed to women such as social intelligence, open communication, and the ability to focus are highly valued in today’s workplace. Inclusive environments drive stronger performance and sustainable business benefits. In fact, according to a 2007 Catalyst report, “The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards,” companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals, with a 42 percent higher return on sales and 53 percent higher return on equity.

According to a 2011 Deloitte report, women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food and own approximately 40 percent of all private businesses in the formal economy. Women are expected to control approximately $28 trillion in consumer spending by next year, yet remain gravely underrepresented at the helm of business organizations. The figures speak for themselves and are too important to be ignored.

What’s the difference in having a man advocating for equality instead of a woman? Doesn’t that just prove the point that women need men to take an active role for change to occur?

Men need to be part of the discussion, especially as they currently hold most of the positions of leadership, and they need to understand the business case. If you look at the Fortune 500 companies, all but a tiny percentage of those CEOs are men. I’ve learned that if you want business leaders to act on something, you have to demonstrate that it makes good business sense.  It costs the same amount of money to recruit a woman, develop a woman, and within the Deloitte network, I am pleased to say it costs the same to pay a woman as it does a man. So, it is a huge waste of intellectual capital and fee-earning capacity if we fail to develop a proportionate number of women to become leaders in our organization.

In your view, what has been accomplished recently to drive equality?

It is encouraging to see that board-level discussions are setting the stage for change. The collaboration between private business and the public sector has helped. For example, the United Nations Global Compact’s Women’s Empowerment Principles have provided a global platform for leaders across sectors to work together to address these challenges and share solutions.

What are next steps?

There is no one-size, quick-fix solution to address equality. In terms of next steps, there are critical success factors to improving equality, including communicating the business case for equality; engaging champions across all levels; dedicating appropriate resources; setting priorities and establishing targets that measure performance; implementing and monitoring relevant diversity plans throughout the network; clearly defining roles and responsibilities; and equipping our leaders with inclusive leadership skills.

Why do executives need to be addressing these issues instead of only HR offices?

It is quite simple: given the business dividend of equality and the fact that the top sets the tone, executives should take the lead on this issue. As chairman of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.’s global board, I have regular access to our top leaders, including the member firm CEO network.  When I elevate the issue of diversity to the board, the discussion is much different than if it’s elevated through HR channels.

How has the gender-equal environment at Deloitte affected the workplace? Changed the unconscious bias?

One global initiative that I am very proud of is the effort to diversify DTTL’s global board.  When I first took on the role of chairman, women comprised just 6 percent of its membership. Today, they occupy one-quarter of the seats. This change is good for our culture and our business. In order to achieve this, several of the most influential male board members volunteered to vacate their seats to make room for talented, senior women from their own leadership teams.

I try to lead by example, but I recognize my own unconscious bias, and that I naturally attract, recruit and develop people in my own male image. A key competency for leaders is the ability to lead diverse teams, including managing unconscious bias effectively.

Regarding unconscious bias in recruiting — what do you have to do to act differently?

Now that I am aware of my own unconscious bias, I can self-correct if I see myself heading in that direction. And I can take positive steps. For example, in the United Kingdom, where I am based, we have a very diverse workforce. I have also taken deliberate steps to act as mentor to a talented young female leader in France and a very experienced male leader in India.

It is a long haul game made up of many small advances on different fronts, but as the saying goes, even the longest journey starts with the first step.

Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.