Deloitte demonstrate the need for gender diversity innovation

Article By Ross Johnson

   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Whilst diversity within businesses continues to makes progress, Deloitte has wondered if this progress isn’t a little too slow.

“A company doesn’t need to be in the situation facing many Silicon Valley firms to recognise that it has a diversity problem. In response, should it simply continue to do the same thing and hope for better results, or summon ‘all hands on deck’ to accelerate progress?”

These are the words of Megan Schumann, who on the face of it, would not appear to be a woman who would champion the end of female advocacy groups at Deloitte. Attending an all-girls school at her own request, she was also to found a woman’s business group during her time at Georgetown University. Now a strategist consultant for Deloitte specialising in tackling social and environmental challenges head on, rather than advocate women’s networks and diversity groups, she is championing the end of them. “I am one of the more unlikely deserters from a women’s initiative,” she says. “But why go talk to a circle of people about something that feels like it’s tied to only one facet of your identity?”

Their announcement that they were scrapping their women’s initiative after 24 years, as well as Globe which supports LGBT employees, and others focused on minorities and veterans, has been met with a diverse reception. These initiatives will instead be replaced with ‘inclusion councils’ that will include the majority—white men. The idea in itself is simple. It offers all managers, including the majority that still dominate leadership roles, the forum and tools to be inclusive through including them in the conversation. They will then be held accountable for building more balanced teams. “We are turning it on its head for our people,” says Deepa Purushothaman, who has led the WIN group since 2015 and is the company’s managing principal for inclusion. “By having everyone in the room, you get more allies, advocates and sponsors. A lot of our leaders are still older white men, and they need to be part of the conversation and advocate for women. But they’re not going to do that as much if they don’t hear the stories and understand what that means.”

It is an interesting take on the problem of diversity, and has received mixed reactions inside and outside of the business community. Whilst Deloitte remain the only inconspicuous absence from the signatories of the Women in Finance charter, their announcement once again shows they’re not afraid to demonstrate genuine innovation and leadership on gender diversity initiatives, even if it raises eyebrows. Schuman said, “I found myself sending a lot of personalised emails to male leaders when I recruited them as mentors for Deloitte’s Women’s Initiative mentorship program. Unsurprisingly, many just hadn’t thought to show up at a women’s mentorship event. My hope is that Inclusion Councils will make it easier to rally support from all sides. And having multiple separate mentoring programs can give way to one really good one.”

Not everyone agrees. PWC LLP, a Deloitte competitor, are sticking with the traditional advocacy groups and were quick to respond in a statement to the news of Deloitte’s diversity overhaul: “Our affinity groups at PwC are focused on business outcomes and come together to sponsor events that provide cultural awareness, mentoring, and opportunities to network. We believe there is tremendous value in also having individual ERGs to provide more leadership opportunities to their members.”

Nevertheless, Deloitte have decided to be the ones leading innovation in diversity, and the driving force of the change they wish to see. Whether it is a corporate structure others will adopt, will remain a question of how well it works.  “People would understand if we kept the structure as it was, given all the current conversations about women in corporate America,” Schumann says, “But for us, in order to really drive change, get everyone on board, and to really have a focus on the culture conversation that needs to happen, these things were necessary.” Deloitte’s diversity figures, published next year, will make interesting reading for those who have diversity on their agenda—it may well be an innovation others have no choice but to adopt.