Making a genuine gender difference
By Roger Dassen - January 30, 2013
It is one of the enduring paradoxes of working life: Advancing women in business life seems common-sense but in practice appears to flounder and not make the headway we all expect. The reasons for this were a topic of discussion at the recent OECD Gender Forum – Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now, where I joined a distinguished group of participants, including government and business leaders. It was clear from our discussion that challenges remain.
Take diversity for example. Deloitte Australia has recently carried out ground-breaking research (“Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup?”) in the manufacturing, retail, and healthcare sectors. When modelling the relationship among diversity, inclusion and business performance, the research found that when both diversity and inclusion were high, there was an uplift of some 80 percent in perceptions of business performance. Buoyed by these results, the research was widened to include customer service, innovation and engagement. And the same thing happened: Perceptions of business outcomes are always significantly higher with high diversity and high inclusion. Another finding was that where employees perceive their organization is committed to and supportive of diversity, and where employees feel included, they are 80 percent more likely to believe they work in a high-performing organisation.
All of this suggests that the case should be closed and the gender issue has been dealt with. But as a report which Deloitte recently helped produce for the OECD showed, the battle is far from won. The title of that report, “Putting ALL Our Minds to Work,” points to the inescapable logic of the argument for diversity. And the report, having detailed the many projects and initiatives being undertaken, found that public policy frameworks and government actions are still needed to ensure that change can be brought about, particularly in providing more robust career paths for women in business.
Part of this comes about because diversity, despite the growing evidence of research, is still not seen as a business imperative. The same is true of inclusion. Very few organizations measure the degree to which employees feel empowered to contribute their diverse perspectives or how included they feel.
When there is no organizational commitment to understand the circumstances and atmosphere surrounding diversity and inclusion, it is easy to see how a lack of critical thinking or unexamined biases can lead to all types of exclusionary behavior and action—from not including women on critical assignments, to perpetuating unfair promotional practices.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the leadership point of view is paramount.
Take our French tax member firm, Deloitte Taj, for example. It took its tone from the top. Its CEO set out to create an environment which is described by the workforce as fair and inclusive, and which featured specific interventions. For example, salary gap comparisons were disclosed; meetings early or late in the day were banned; and flexible working was introduced, with the CEO leading the way by dropping his kids at school. Today, 50 percent of the equity partners and executives are women.
These are the types of initiative which can minimize the road-blocks to women’s career progression. This makes obvious sense for Deloitte and its network of member firms. We touch many different parts of the business world. We operate in global, diverse teams, and leveraging diversity has become one of our key values and strengths. We know that people who have different backgrounds and skills can innovate and relate to diverse clients effectively. We also acknowledge that we still have a way to go to see strong results across the board.
At this stage, all questions and approaches regarding diversity and inclusion are fair game. These include the role for voluntary or mandatory quotas for women’s memberships on boards and other approaches such as sponsorships, partnerships, and collaborations that can advance opportunities for women and others.
It was exciting to be involved in the OECD discussion that addressed these and other important topics. It will be even more exciting when these questions are being asked—and addressed—in conference rooms, offices, and hallways in organisations everywhere in the world.
Roger Dassen is the Global Managing Director, Clients, Services & Talent, of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. He is also a member of the DTTL Executive and has served as CEO of Deloitte Netherlands. Roger's previous leadership roles include serving as National Managing Director Accounting & Auditing of Deloitte Netherlands and as a member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Global Assurance Leadership Team. He is also an honorary professor of auditing at the University of Maastricht and a full professor of auditing at the Free University of Amsterdam.