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Gender parity

The Conversation: Making diversity sustainable

Charlotte Rushton, managing director, Large and Midsize Law Firms at Thomson Reuters, recently spoke with Ami Kaplan, vice chairman at Deloitte & Touche LLP, about the decades’ worth of initiatives at Deloitte to improve the diversity of its staff.

With more than 25 years’ experience at Deloitte, Kaplan has held a variety of positions there, including being the first partner-in-charge of the Women’s Initiative for the Tri-State Region, and has been an ongoing presence in the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion and Women’s Initiative programs. She’s also a past president of the Women’s Forum of New York.

Charlotte Rushton: Deloitte is ranked highly in terms of its diversity and inclusion. You’ve been named among the best places to work for women, mothers and diverse employees. What are some of the most successful elements of your program?

Ami Kaplan: When we started our women’s initiative back in 1993, we focused on getting gender parity right. That’s evolved over the years, because our workforce has evolved. We’ve come to realize it’s more about culture and behaviors than any specific programs. We’ve embedded the concept of inclusion in all of our brand ambassadors. The idea that you’ll need to think broadly here gets ingrained from the first moment you join Deloitte, when you go to Deloitte University. This is how diversity becomes sustainable. It’s not a program that’s going to end in a year. It’s a more sustainable cultural change in behavior.

Rushton: How do you put that culture in place? Does it need to start at the top?

Kaplan: In 1993, Mike Cook, the CEO at the time, had daughters who were entering the workforce and he realized it was a much different place for them. He said as a business imperative, we have to understand what the issues are and then address them. What was surprising is that what we initially thought were gender issues were actually more workforce issues. For example, all of our employees, all of our partners, wanted a more balanced life. All of them wanted to able to say, “I’m going to my child’s soccer game” and not have to say “I have a client commitment.” They all wanted to live in a more transparent way.

One of our latest innovations is asking how do we make great individuals into great teams? How do we integrate them? That’s being driven by the diversity of their needs and perspectives. When we started out, we never had quotas but we did have challenges. We believed you should feel free to say things like “don’t give me a list of promotions unless it’s a diverse list.”

Rushton: So while you didn’t have specific diversity targets, there were guidelines, by the sounds of it.

Kaplan: There were guidelines as a mindset. For example, you might go to a conference and look on the stage and say, “Is that a diverse enough set of Deloitte representation?” It meant making sure that we were as inclusive as we could be. So if I go to one of our regulatory panels and see it’s all male, I’ll say “no, this can’t happen again.” And people will be mortified when you call them out: “I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right.” So it’s not 1993 anymore, [where you have to explain] why that’s important. The mindset’s changed.

Rushton: Did you at first have to tie diversity to the success of the firm? Did you have to persuade people about why they needed to think that way?

Kaplan: We all went through a training course called Men and Women as Colleagues. The funny part about this training course is that it needed to have a good representation of women but there were so few women [at Deloitte] back in 1993. You would get a mug when you completed the course, so I had a set of 12!

An example that still resonates with me was that several men [in the training course] told me that “my wife is very uncomfortable when I travel with a 23-year-old woman.” It had never crossed my mind that I’d make anyone uncomfortable. But something as simple as that raised awareness [about] maybe why I hadn’t been provided an opportunity. “Well, I thought I was trying to protect you, because you have a family,” they might say, instead of realizing that it’s my opportunity, and I’ll make the decision. So much bad behavior is due to good intentions.

Rushton: You mentioned that when you were made partner, about 93% of partners in the firm were men. I was a partner at a consulting company and I think we were at about 12% women at that time. Since then, obviously things have changed quite a lot. What does it look like for Deloitte now?

Kaplan: We have more than 2,000 women and minorities. More than 50% of our promotions in the last three years have been women and minorities: as partners, principals, managing directors. And 48% of our board members are women.

Even more important are the key positions they hold. For example, we had our first woman Chairman of the Board. We have the first woman CEO of a major firm. The CEO of our consulting business is a woman. And our global CEO is a minority, who likes to say that Deloitte is the place where anything can happen.

That it doesn’t matter who I am, what my sexual preference is, what my age is, what my gender is. If I bring something valuable to the table, I will be given opportunities.

Rushton: Are there any things along the way that you would call failures? Things that you tried but wouldn’t do again?

Kaplan: When we stopped measuring diversity after our gender gap went away, we kind of declared a premature success: “Look, the gender gap has gone away and we’re all good.” But we weren’t realizing we were still very narrow in our definitions of diversity. We had to be much broader.

And there’s more focus on individual needs today, which I think is a tremendous shift. We’re no longer talking about gender parity, we’re talking about everybody having a voice at the table. I remember back in the day you were told, “This is how you dress at Deloitte. This is how you act at Deloitte.” Now that isn’t the case. We expect you to have your own style and be authentic within the boundaries of what’s appropriate.

Rushton: Does everyone contribute to the types of innovations needed for diversity issues? Is the whole workforce coming up with ideas, or is it mainly the executive team?

Kaplan: It comes from the whole workforce. We do a lot of pulse surveys. We’re continually looking for feedback, so we’ll do quick surveys throughout the year on a thousand different topics. We also have a lot of multi-generational advisory councils.

Rushton: Another area of interest for me is addressing unconscious bias. I wonder whether there are any materials or courses that you’ve been able to use successfully. I feel once people realize that they’re being biased, it’s much easier to make a change, but it’s also hard to understand the biases that we all have.

Kaplan: [Addressing] unconscious bias is built into many of our training courses. There’s actually one just dedicated to that topic. It’s incorporated into everything we do to ensure that we’re at least aware of it, to know we might be thinking in a way that’s not as inclusive as it needs to be.

It’s been a good journey. We’ve made some great progress. But we still have a long way to go. What’s key is that all of our firms keep evolving and growing, taking feedback and acting on it. I think we’re all looking forward to the day when we don’t have to talk about this anymore.

Meet the interviewees

Ami KaplanAmi Kaplan is a senior partner and vice chairman at Deloitte whose primary role is to advise Deloitte’s largest and most complex global financial services clients on business, risk management and other financial and organizational challenges.  And as the lead client service partner for some of Deloitte’s largest universal bank clients, Kaplan is responsible for developing all senior executive relationships and overseeing all of the teams and work we deliver.
Charlotte Rushton, Managing Director, Large & Medium Law Firms, Thomson ReutersCharlotte Rushton is managing director, Large & Midsize Law Firms for Thomson Reuters, Legal business. Rushton is responsible for the company’s large and midsize legal customers. She also serves as the executive innovation champion within Thomson Reuters, Legal. She was named one of the top “100 Women to Watch” in 2015 by the Financial Times and London Stock Exchange index (FTSE) Female Board in the UK.

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