Emma is a Global Inclusion Leader for Deloitte, leading the development and delivery of the global inclusion strategy. From 2013 – 2019 Emma was Managing Partner for Talent for Deloitte LLP in the UK and sat on the firm’s Executive Committee, a role which she held alongside her client-facing role as a Partner in the Financial Advisory practice. During this period Emma led a period of significant change for the firm from a diversity & inclusion perspective, including the firm’s award-winning approach to Respect & Inclusion - a culture change program that underpinned all of the firm’s actions on diversity.
Alongside this focus on culture, Emma devised and implemented numerous targeted interventions aimed at positively impacting from a gender, LGBT+, ethnicity, and social mobility diversity perspective. This included early voluntary gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting. Emma also led the UK firm’s approach to mental health, overseeing a period during which stigma was reduced and an array of support for those with mental ill-health was introduced.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
The global health crisis is shaking up the normal ways of work and upending businesses like never before. What does it mean for businesses as they plan for the year 2021?
2021 will likely see business leaders shift from a crisis response mode to that of recovery, focusing on how their businesses can thrive in a “new normal.” This presents an opportunity to redesign some of the ways businesses have traditionally operated, including embedding new ways of working during the pandemic that were successful in a “go-forward” model. It also presents an opportunity to redress any negative impacts on workplace gender diversity and mental health, which the pandemic has brought to the fore.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to rethink how they work and deliver services as well as how they engage, develop, and support their people. It has enabled organizations to challenge entrenched norms regarding how we work. As we move into a recovery phase, it will enable organizations to continue shifting in a direction that aligns with the expectations of their workforces.
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How are diversity heads steering their companies through the crisis globally?
The pandemic has served to highlight the need for inclusive leadership in the workplace. The fast move to remote working had many companies focused on assuring they had the technology to enable it and that their people were appropriately set up for success. At Deloitte, we quickly produced guidance for our leaders on directing teams during long periods of remote working. This guidance spanned a range of elements, including encouraging regular check-ins and individual discussions with team members to understand their circumstances. We also provided guidance and resources for our entire remote workforce. For example, our series of regular mental health podcasts provided insights and tips for managing well-being for those feeling isolated or overwhelmed.
Our recent research on working women and COVID-19, “Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women,” highlights how the pandemic could threaten recent progress pertaining to gender equality in the workplace. The survey of nearly 400 working women across nine countries uncovered some stark findings. The majority of women surveyed shared that their lives had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, leaving nearly 70 percent of them concerned about the ability to progress in their careers. Of those who experienced shifts in their daily routines, just under two-thirds told us they now have more responsibility for household duties, this figure tripled for those assuming 75 percent or more of caregiving responsibilities.. The impact of these shifts is significant, with nearly 40 percent telling us they are unable to balance work and life commitments. Forty-six percent reported feeling a need to be “always-on” at work, resulting in nearly half of that group saying their physical well-being has suffered as a result, and 10 percent telling us they are considering a career break or leaving the workforce entirely.
What are some of the actions organizations can take to support the continued success and progress of women in the workforce?
As shown by our global survey, the pandemic has had an adverse impact on many working women. With some feeling that their mental or physical health is suffering and some even questioning whether to remain with their employers. it is clear companies could lose ground on gender diversity if they do not take steps to address these issues.
Our survey asked women what their employers could do to help them to progress and what factors are making them question whether they want to continue in their organizations.
The findings reinforce that organizations need to focus on creating an inclusive culture alongside targeted interventions aimed at enabling progress to retain women in the workplace and enable success. The survey results helped us develop six clear actions for business:
- Making diversity and inclusion non-negotiables in your everyday culture: Thirty percent of women who question whether they want to progress in their careers when they consider what is required cited non-inclusive behaviors—such as microaggressions and exclusion from meetings and projects—as a factor. For some, these behaviors (which are frequently unintentional) can seem “too small” to raise through formal reporting processes. While policies and procedures are important, it is the “everyday culture” that employees experience that can undermine the impact of these policies, as it can take just one comment from a leader to undermine a policy.
- Making flexible working the norm: This isn’t just about enabling remote working during the pandemic; it’s about normalizing agile work in a sustainable way for individuals and the business. Many options can be successful, including job sharing or part-time working. However, success is reliant on two things: first, that those taking advantage of working options believe they can do so without career penalty and, second, that leaders fully enable these ways of working through visible and vocal support.
- Leading with empathy and trust: As the pandemic highlights, it is more important than ever that leaders are engaging in open and supportive conversations with their teams and that they are approachable and ready to listen. Our survey identified 44 percent of women would like regular and deliberate check-ins with their leaders.
- Providing networking, mentorship, and sponsorship opportunities: With nearly 50 percent of women surveyed saying this would be beneficial to their careers, each of these elements is critical. However, these opportunities should be presented in ways that ensure all employees can participate (i.e. a “breakfast networking event,” can exclude those who have early-morning caregiving responsibilities).
- Creating learning opportunities that align with employees’ daily lives: While many of the women surveyed said they are keen to progress in their careers, several also said they were struggling to balance work and home commitments. This can result in personal development opportunities being side-lined. Creative “on-demand” approaches to learning can enable all employees to access the development support they need in flexible, practical ways.
- Ensuring that reward, succession, and promotion processes address unconscious bias: While structuring reward and promotion processes to address the risk of unconscious bias has always been important, the pandemic has added to the need for many organizations to look at contribution differently, including in the context of remote working and unavoidable commitments outside work.
Do you think we will see the emergence of new online training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?
Reskilling and upskilling workers will play an increasingly essential role in the future. Even amid a pandemic, we learned from our recent survey that 40 percent of women wanted more learning and development opportunities, interesting projects, and/or “stretch” assignments. The appetite to continue learning is there, even under these stressful times. However, respondents also told us that work/life balance is currently a challenge, which could mean that training and development is pushed to the back of a long “to do” list. Thus, upskilling and development needs to be offered in innovative ways that enable all employees to access it on-demand where possible.
How can companies build a culture of belonging and make everyone feel comfortable, empowered, and heard? Isn't it challenging at a time like this?
While an employer may have diversity and inclusion policies in place, it is the “everyday culture” experienced by employees that will determine whether they believe that diversity and inclusion is a real priority. That’s why at Deloitte we deliberately focus on our culture as a foundation for our inclusion approach, with our shared value of “fostering inclusion” reflected in the everyday experiences of our people.
It is this everyday culture that will enable a feeling of belonging and will engender trust; it will enable our people to bring their whole selves to work and perform their best. This means an environment where our people understand the adverse impact of microaggressions and non-inclusive behavior – and where anyone feels comfortable raising issues with the assurance that they will not suffer career penalties.
What's your take on leadership especially at a time like this and how can they make ethical and diversity-centered decisions?
Inclusive leadership is critically important at a time like this. Remote working and constant uncertainty have impacted people in different ways – from isolation to feeling constantly overwhelmed. Leaders must take the time to listen and understand – to instill a sense of belonging and to provide the support that is needed. At times of crisis, it is easy for “people-focused” priorities to be set aside. However, it is during these times when these priorities are most needed. As our 2020 Millennial Survey shows, a large part of the workforce feels stressed and anxious and – while some believe that stress and anxiety is a valid reason to take time off work – others don’t feel comfortable sharing the true reason. The pandemic has led to an inflection point when it comes to the way we work. It has highlighted a need to determine the “new normal,” and it is incumbent upon us as leaders to make sure that the new normal prioritizes diversity and inclusion.
What is one thing that you have learned from this pandemic and why is it important?
While I have long been an advocate for prioritizing mental health in the workplace, the pandemic has brought this onto the agenda of many leaders. The visibility of this issue should be a positive step towards addressing mental health concerns in the workplace, but we need to remember that mental health was an issue long before the pandemic, with a staggering number of millennials and Gen Zs telling us in our 2020 Millennial Survey (pre-pandemic) that they felt stressed and anxious most or all of the time.
Mental health needs to continue to be a priority for businesses as we now recognize the role of employers in helping to address it.