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Improving Women’s Access to Leadership Opportunities

OECD panel highlights progress and challenges facing women on International Women’s Day

By David Cruickshank, Deloitte Global Chairman

Creating an inclusive and diverse work environment makes good business sense and is the right thing to do. Data clearly shows organisations that have more inclusive environments perform better and have stronger financial results. However, while trends are moving in the right direction, women’s access to leadership opportunities remains a global challenge. At the current pace of change, it will be beyond my life time and that of my children and their children before we see parity in the workplace. Confronting this challenge requires a sense of urgency and vigour and a broad mindset. There is no one silver bullet, but a mirage of factors that need to change in order to close the gap and permanently reverse the trends that have prevented too many talented women from attaining leadership positions.

It’s with that frame of mind that I recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to commemorate International Women’s Day. Having served in numerous capacities at Deloitte UK and now at Deloitte Global I have witnessed the benefits that our network accrued as more and more women became member firm partners and joined the leadership ranks. I am proud of the progress we have made, but I know we can do better. The Deloitte network has more than 225,000 professionals worldwide and 44 per cent are women. However that percentage begins to drop as women rise to the manager level and continues to decline at the director and partner level, the two highest levels in our organisation. Sadly, like other large organisations, we lose more woman than men.

During the panel discussion, I spoke about four factors that I believe can help facilitate greater gender diversity in leadership - which is applicable to both the private and public sectors - and will therefore help reverse the trend I mention above.

Change the discussion to diversity AND inclusion to expand the leadership pipeline.

The benefits of speaking about diversity and inclusion together can change the conversation and provide the foundation to attract, retain and promote women into leadership positions. We need to remove unconscious bias from the hiring and promotion process and focus on an evidence-based system. Additionally, we need to make sure we have transparent recruitment, promotion and advancement statistics and good insight into why talented women are not being promoted or are leaving. This includes asking people to stand behind and articulate their thinking, processes and decisions. By focussing on diversity and inclusion together, we can begin to shift the culture and set a new tone for expanding the leadership pipeline.

Leadership paths for women must be an integral part of business strategy – not just an HR function.

While HR departments have an integral part to play, real change will only occur through a strong business strategy. This involves engaging champions across all levels, dedicating appropriate resources, setting priorities and targets and effectively embedding measures into performance management systems. Also, making these efforts transparent so we can create accountability for our successes and failures. Within Deloitte, for example, diversity and inclusion are core parts of our network’s business strategy and one of our key values. While each member firm has its own distinct strategy, Deloitte Global has developed a global diversity business case – a vision of where we would like our network to be and a framework and priorities to assist member firms in formulating their own diversity business case and plans.

Tone at the top and leadership from men is needed.

This is fundamental because nothing will change without Board and CEO support, both of which tend to be dominated by men. I have seen many clients over the years, both in the private and public sector, change the dynamics dramatically because a male CEO or chairman takes the lead and shows the organisation why gender diversity is important. In many parts of the Deloitte network, it’s a requirement that succession lists have a number of talented women on them who are eligible for a promotion into a leadership role. Some of our CEOs are setting targets themselves and inviting their Boards to hold them accountable. Board chairmen can set the tone, as well, by the representation on their Boards, which not only improves decision-making internally, but also provides role models and examples for the organisation to follow more widely.

The Deloitte Global Board has made important strides over the last several years. It is made up of roughly 25 per cent women. We also have women CEOs leading our member firms in the US, Australia and Norway, many more who are serving on boards in their home countries. However, we know more must be done to increase these numbers throughout our global network and we need to pick up the pace in the process.

The impact of digitisation on education, career choices and life-long learning will shape the workforce of the future.

Digitisation in technology is rapidly impacting the availability of jobs and the skills they require. In my own country, the UK, much of the labour market growth in the last 20 years can be attributed to improvements in female participation. However, technology is disrupting this trend. Businesses, educators and governments must work together to ensure we are adapting our workforce to the skills suited for the jobs of tomorrow.

I’m proud to say that Deloitte and other organisations in the private sector are proactively working to expand leadership opportunities for women. International Women’s Day is a reminder that we must strengthen our efforts to support the elevation of more talented women to the boardroom and leadership positions if we are truly going to live our purpose and make an impact that matters to clients, Deloitte professionals and the communities we live in and serve.

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