Can finding work life balance support diversity in the workplace?

The issue of gender balance in the workplace is now getting the attention it deserves and is very much on the minds of business leaders across the country. For Deloitte it’s critical to how we run our business, retain talented individuals and best serve our clients. Equally, we know it is something our clients care about too.

Through our women in leadership plan, we have set in place a goal of having 25% female partners by 2020 (our current percentage stands at 17%). How we achieve this and how we reach true gender diversity in our firm will rely on a combination of things. For example, having visible female role models, sponsorship (where leaders champion & support high potential women), an engrained belief that diversity breeds success and a workplace that provides women with the ability to have a successful career alongside a family life.

“My colleagues judge me on my results rather than whether I am at my desk in the office.”

We must ensure Deloitte has a culture and environment which support working families and agile working. Through our WorkAgility programme we provide our people with real choice around when, where and how to work. This is founded on three key principles: trust and respect, open and honest communication, and judging people on results. Today’s workplace must be a modern and agile environment where people are trusted to work in a way that combines their needs with those of their team and the wider business.

While putting such programmes in place clearly addresses some of the barriers to gender diversity, we also need to find ways to help women return to the workplace after starting a family. We have introduced a ‘return-to-work’ scheme, offering a 12-week paid internship to women in professional services who have been out of the workforce for between three and six years. We hope this will help tackle the concerns of women who feel they have fallen behind latest developments in the business and the wider industry and give them a chance to catch up.

“Every leader has a responsibility to actively champion the high potential women that they work with, making sure that they are provided with the opportunities that they deserve”

It’s also crucial that people in positions of authority recognise the changing business landscape and act as role models in order to change perceptions – including those around working more flexibly. As Managing Partner for Talent and a Partner in the Forensic practice, I’m responsible for a critical area of the business, yet I work one day a week from home and leave work early when I can so I can pick my children up from school. I am open about it and my colleagues judge me on my results rather than whether I am at my desk in the office. I work in a way that works not only for me but for my teams and the business.

Equally critical is the need for sponsorship — where people in positions of authority use their influence intentionally to help others advance. We know that women often won’t put themselves forward for opportunities (and, where they do, are often overlooked for a candidate that may be nearer to the image of the person deciding on the role). So we think every leader (whether male or female) has a responsibility to actively champion the high potential women that they work with, making sure that they are provided with the opportunities that they deserve.

However, perhaps the biggest challenge to achieving true gender diversity is culture and the existence of unconscious bias. All of Deloitte’s partners undertake mandatory respect and inclusion leadership workshops and we will extend this across the entire firm. Alongside other actions, we have also created a short, thought-provoking film – ‘Ask Yourself…’ — aimed at helping everyone at Deloitte think about their personal responsibility to address any unconscious bias, treat people with respect and to judge them on the value they bring.

Deloitte recently announced its annual partner promotions, of which nearly one third were female, reflecting the success of some of the measures we have put in place to identify, retain and develop high performing women. Whilst we still have some way to go to achieving the gender diversity we want — and recognise that it will take a combination of cultural change and deliberate action for us to achieve our goal — I’m both proud that our efforts are starting to show signs of success and committed to making sure all our talented individuals can thrive and flourish.


Emma Codd is Managing Partner for Talent at Deloitte UK, a leading professional services firm committed to ensuring that women are able to fulfil their potential and career goals.

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