It was about this time that President Bush lost his bid for reelection, and his administration's Secretary of Labor, Lynn Martin, was deciding her next career move. Deloitte & Touche CEO Mike Cook thought Martin, who created the Glass Ceiling Commission during her White House tenure, might be just the person to chair the Council on the Advancement of Women. He put the idea out to Deloitte & Touche's then all-male management committee, and they agreed. So did Martin.
Here, Martin reflects on her past few years of work with Deloitte & Touche, and on the status of working women in general.
What makes Deloitte & Touche's strategy different from other diversity initiatives?
First, I was an outsider, which is a high-risk strategy for Deloitte & Touche. Often you find that whenever any firm [begins a cultural change], it wants to internalize it. The company finds out later that each employee sees what he or she wants to see. Or hears what he or she wants to hear.
Was Deloitte & Touche immediately successful in its change strategy?
Deloitte & Touche began with a number of options. One was what I call the Alan Alda sensitivity approach to women: "Oh, yes we understand there's a real problem. We'll put programs in place and that will take care of it." The company then sat back and waited for the programs to work. And it's an accounting firm, so working meant it would see a change in numbers. It didn't see a change in numbers. Some companies might say, "All right, we took a try. That's it—goodbye." Deloitte & Touche took a different view. Deloitte & Touche knew it was losing a big percentage of its best people, and it would eventually hurt its clients. Moreover, this was symptomatic in the field, so if it could figure out a way to solve it, it'd get a competitive advantage.
What do you bring to the table?
The council, which I chair, meets with a variety of sources and reports back to the partnership yearly in how we think it's doing. I'm also an advisor to the firm in addition to being the council's chairperson, so I travel to various offices of Deloitte & Touche, to meet with partners, to meet with new employees. Because I'm outside the firm, employees can say things to me that they wouldn't necessarily say to their bosses. Partners listen to me in a different way.
Were the business reasons for the initiative always clear?
It's been helpful that while undergoing this [change initiative], the business has improved. I'm not saying as a direct correlation, but it's much harder to redivide a smaller pie. Deloitte & Touche's idea was always that it'd make the pie bigger because it'd be able to tell its customers that its service is even better. It never lost sight that the customer is the goal. It's always good to do the right, moral thing, but does the right thing also match the profitable thing? If economics and ethics match, it's a much more powerful agent for change.
What's Deloitte & Touche's current progress report?
It's still not perfect. We can't really claim victory, but what we can claim is that the troops are in good battle position. The company is seeing the beginnings of the shift and the acceptance of the fact that some of its best people are women. And that's the truth.
What are you focusing on now for the company?
What we ask of the senior men is that they accelerate their ability to reach out in ways that no one's asked them to before. The good news is most of them do a fine job. We're not talking about men vs. women here. We're talking about men and women as colleagues, as friends, as leaders and occasionally as competitors.
Do you think we're seeing a backlash from white males in Corporate America?
I think there's some. I'm not Pollyanna here. But what's amazing to me is if you see how quickly we've moved, not just Deloitte & Touche, but society—most white males do not want to see women disadvantaged. Most whites don't want to see blacks disadvantaged. Does that mean there's no racism or sexism? No. But I do believe the mindset is changing here.
If there's a backlash, if someone asks, "Why did she get to be partner?" [Say], she got to be partner because she's better than the other guy. Flat out. You can't try to always make people feel better. If a woman doesn't get to be partner, you tell her, "You didn't get it because you didn't hit the mark." You're much more comfortable doing that when you know all the doors are open.
Would you say Deloitte is setting an example for the industry to follow?
[The other Big Six firms] are nice enough to tell me to keep pushing on it because every time Deloitte does something, they say, "Well, now we'd better do something." So, yes, I think we're a leader—when you have a competitive advantage, everyone tries to catch up and for that I'm quite grateful.
Where do you see the status of working women in the future?
I think we'll see some change in attitude, but as a whole American businesses still haven't come to grips with the family issue. It's a lot easier for most American businesses to understand going away for two years for the Gulf War than two years to raise a child. But we're better than we were five years ago. And women are better at speaking up about the family needs and not apologizing for it. I think we're moving ahead in many fronts. But pioneers didn't always choose the right path. To get across the mountain you have to keep looking for the gaps.
Personnel Journal, April 1996, Vol. 75, No. 4, p. 58.