This week, Cat Callen, Associate Partner from our London office is speaking with Sharon Thorne the Chair of Deloitte’s Global Board of Directors – the first women in the company’s 175-year history to hold the role.
In the fourth instalment of the series of interviews providing a spotlight on senior leaders of advisory firms, we discuss how the firm’s leadership is steering Deloitte through the crisis, the importance of mental health and how the firm is championing diversity.
Every person in the world has been touched by this year’s pandemic. How has your leadership style adapted this year?
As well as the obvious impact of having to adapt to working remotely, I think the current environment has made empathy, authenticity, and trust even more important characteristics of being a good leader. As you mention, everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in some way. Some people are dealing with increased anxiety and uncertainty, some are feeling isolated, and some now have increased workloads – either at home or at work – that can feel very overwhelming.
As lives have been disrupted by the pandemic, I have found it’s especially important for leaders to be able to have open and supportive conversations with their teams. I check in with my core team regularly – through one-on-one calls and ask them if they are okay, and I listen and probe and support as needed. Leading with empathy promotes an open and respectful culture that can build trust among employers and employees. Open dialogues can also help leaders understand the short-term constraints their team members may be facing and better support them.
Deloitte recently published a report on working women and Covid-19, which pointed to six key steps that leaders can implement to support not just the women in their workforces – but all their employees – during the pandemic. These include making flexible working arrangements the norm, implementing learning experiences that work for employees’ daily (perhaps disrupted) lives, addressing unconscious bias in succession and promotion planning (and considering how this manifests in remote working environments), and making diversity, respect, and inclusion non-negotiable values.
How has this historic moment created opportunities for Deloitte to rebuild differently?
The world is going through a period of enormous uncertainty. Covid-19 is exacerbating existing inequalities and injustices. We’re also experiencing social, political, and economic turmoil, and we continue to face the very serious and increasing threat of climate change. The role of leadership has perhaps never been so important – trust and resilience are critical right now.
Deloitte’s actions this year have been guided by our resilient leadership framework – Respond, Recover, and Thrive. Looking ahead, Deloitte’s commitment to building a better future means preparing clients to navigate further disruption while we contribute to a society that is more sustainable and equitable for all. We know that we can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic.
While there’s a lot of work to be done to get to a better normal, I have been immensely inspired by how Deloitte people have stepped up to help our clients and communities navigate the crisis. Our people have made an impact in a number of ways, including by combatting food insecurity in India, helping vulnerable populations experiencing isolation, and donating unused airline ticket balances to assist health care workers on the frontlines.
I’m also very excited about Deloitte’s recently-announced climate initiative, WorldClimate, which includes a commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by focusing on creating awareness of personal choices and changing behaviours – both within our organisation and among those we influence.
Looking to the future, we know that few things will be the same as before the disruptions we’ve seen in 2020. Organisations and societies must learn from these crises and implement changes that enhance their resilience.
It seems there is a united mindset from leaders to channel energy into diversity initiatives. What are the current objectives in place around diversity?
Having the right policies and programmes to support diversity is obviously important, but these can only go so far if the culture is not inclusive. Tone at the top remains one of the most crucial ways to move the needle: a supportive CEO, Board, diverse and inclusive leadership teams, and a focus on areas such as recruitment and promotion process are all important.
They should all be aligned to ensure the organisation focuses on the fundamentals – inclusive leadership and support for a working environment in which all people can thrive, be themselves, and balance successful careers alongside life outside work.
At Deloitte we’re deliberately focusing on everyday behaviours (for example providing training on identifying and stopping microaggressions) to strive to maintain a culture where all of our people feel included and respected, and where diversity is embraced in all its forms. Our commitment also includes addressing systemic inequality and injustice; working toward gender parity throughout the career lifecycle; advancing LGBT+ inclusion and allyship; and expanding mental health resources to support our people in normal and extraordinary times.
Why is it important to you as a leader to look after employee mental health?
I see mental health as a critical element of inclusion, and it’s vital to address the stigma that still too often exists within society on this topic. Mental health is a spectrum, and everyone experiences fluctuations over time, so it’s important to talk about it. My own experience with imposter syndrome has shown me there is power in vulnerability as it can give others permission to speak about their own experiences and help shatter the stigma.
Leaders must recognise the importance of supporting employees who may be facing mental health challenges, including ensuring they know where and how to seek support if needed. This means enabling our people to feel they can raise any concerns around their mental health, helping our people to spot the signs of mental health challenges and know how to respond when someone says they aren’t okay, and making sure they feel supported when reaching out for help.
How have you stayed motivated through lockdown? Do you have any tips about working from home?
Before the pandemic, I was traveling frequently to different Deloitte offices and meeting people all around the world – activities that energised me and gave me a sense of purpose. With travel now restricted, after ensuring we have done all we can to respond effectively and support our people and our clients, I have followed up on opportunities to talk about inclusion and climate on external and internal platforms, to meet clients and support our teams, and to talk to our partners and people, all things which give me energy.
Although virtual engagement isn’t the same as being together in person, I can certainly cover a lot more ground in one day! For anyone who is missing the camaraderie of seeing their co-workers in-person, I recommend scheduling regular check-ins with team members to discuss things other than work. These could be virtual hangouts over meals or drinks, game nights, or even quick coffee breaks. It’s also a good way to keep up with how colleagues are doing and offer each other support when needed.
Additionally, when you’re working from home and constantly connected to technology, it can be hard to switch off, no matter what time of day it is or where you are. It’s been especially important for me to continue to prioritise personal time to make sure I have time to recuperate. I hadn’t realised before what a mental break you get even in the two minutes it takes to go and refill your water bottle! I find it helpful to schedule in a few short breaks during the day simply to get up, stretch, or step outside for a couple of minutes.
Finally, my family and friends have been critical during this time. I’m happiest when I’m with my husband walking our dogs. There’s lots of research now saying that just 20-30 minutes of walking in a different environment is really good for you, and I think getting fresh air or spending time in green spaces, such as a local park, is even more important during the pandemic.
About Sharon Thorne
Sharon Thorne is the Chair of the Deloitte Global Board of Directors. Prior to leading the board, Sharon was the deputy CEO and managing partner Global & Strategy of Deloitte North West Europe (NWE), and a member of the Deloitte Global Board of Directors. She is an advocate for diversity & inclusion, and has long championed Deloitte’s ambition to achieve higher representation of women in leadership globally.
“Deloitte” is the brand under which approximately 286,000 dedicated professionals in independent firms throughout the world collaborate to provide audit & assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services to select clients. These firms are members of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a private company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales (“DTTL”, also referred to as “Deloitte Global”).
Cat, based in our London office, is a passionate champion of diversity and inclusivity within her marketplace and, in particular, women in leadership. Cat has developed a strong reputation for ensuring her clients have access to the best diverse talent in the market. Cat operates with total discretion, scrupulously mapping the market with an honest and open approach. Cat consistently identifies and secures high performing executives.