Accounting for the Changing Face of Leadership

by Ed Thomas, Seattle Office Managing Partner, Deloitte | Mar 17, 2015


Collage of diverse faces

In October I was asked to give the keynote speech for the Association of Latin Professionals in Finance and Accounting’s (ALPFA’s) 9thAnnual Gala. The topic of the talk was, “Evolving Together: The Changing Face of Leadership.” Preparing for this speech demanded introspection as well as an honest exploration of what the audience would expect from me and how I might engage with them. The question that nagged at me was raised by my 19-year-old daughter. Audrey critically asked, “Dad, with all respect, why are you [graciously unsaid, white, old and male] talking to ALPFA about the changing face of leadership [again unsaid, which needs to be browner, younger and more feminine]?”  Audrey did not ask me the harder questions, such as “Dad, what is Deloitte doing to lead and what are you going to do to be an agent of change?”

A few months prior to the speech at ALPFA I had attended an eye-opening breakfast event with the WSCPA.  The keynote speaker that morning was Dr. James Johnson, a professor at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Johnson made four compelling points. First, Washington is one of the states outside of the Deep South that is rapidly growing and getting younger.  Second, the faces of Americans are becoming more colorful. Third, the faces of many of our professionals (including accountants) are wrinkling. And fourth, we have much more progress to make on gender and racial opportunity and equality. 

With Dr. Johnson’s prompting and before I had finished my eggs, I was asking myself Audrey’s unasked question, “What was I going to do to lead Deloitte and our 850+ Seattle-based professionals to embrace change – to evolve – so our future leaders better reflect the increasing diversity of our community, our staff and, most importantly, our clients?”

Deloitte’s inclusion journey began a quarter of a decade ago. Also in response to a question from his daughter, our then-CEO sought to address the reasons why more women professionals weren’t staying with us and getting promoted to partner. Thus began our initiative for the Advancement and Retention of Women – WIN. WIN has been a continuing focus for Deloitte, inspiring us to challenge the status quo not just for women, but for diversity broadly defined. In 2003 we released our first Diversity & Inclusion report and 10 years later we launched the Leadership Center for Inclusion at Deloitte University. I am proud to say that last month we were the first major accounting firm to appoint a female U.S. CEO. Cathy Engelbert will be an inspiration to our staff at Deloitte and I hope to you. This is another good step, yet we (Deloitte) need to do more to continue to move the needle, learning as we go.

As I had at the ALPFA dinner, I would like to share some of what we are learning on this journey:

  • The numbers support our gut. Inclusion is not only the right thing to do from a human perspective: it’s the right thing to do from a business perspective.  DiversityInc’s Top 50 outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 20% across a 10-year period. And public companies with more women on their boards of directors have a 53% higher return on equity. In the Puget Sound, the percentage of women on public company boards lags behind national averages; it should not.
  • Inclusion is already here. By 2020, the minority component of the workforce is projected to double. Deloitte hires nearly 18,000 people each year in the U.S., and over 100 locally. To keep up with changing demographics and expectations and to ensure access to the best talent, inclusion needs to go well beyond just considerations of gender, race and sexuality.
  • Tone matters. Research shows that 64% of CEOs in high-performing companies speak about diversity frequently to their senior leadership teams. A culture of inclusion comes from the top. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak out about this with you.
  • Awareness of “covering.” Nearly all employees think there is something about themselves that they need to hide (“cover”) to succeed in the workplace – from hair texture and color to religious beliefs and sexuality. “Covering” our uniqueness inhibits diversity of thought and stifles creativity. Please watch my friend Christie Smith’s compelling TEDx talk on this important topic. “Uncovering” is all about leadership; about creating an environment that welcomes diversity in all forms. 

This journey is far from over for me, for Deloitte or for you. John F. Kennedy once said that “we choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” We have much left to do and I am looking forward to your help along the road. 

Ed Thomas headshotEd Thomas

Ed is Managing Partner for the Deloitte Seattle office and also serves as Lead Client Service Partner for a number of large corporations and enterprises.  He also leads Deloitte’s Strategic Client Program in Seattle, focusing on global client service excellence and bringing the right resources and insight to their clients.
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