UK: Jobs For The Boys. Or Girls?

Last Updated: 30 August 2017
Article by David Sproul and Andrew Orr

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Builder, ballet dancer, lawyer, nurse. Each profession triggers a very different image in our minds and, perhaps, a different gender. Even in 2017 we still find adverts promoting stereotypical gender roles, such as little girls dreaming of being ballerinas while the boys don the hard hats (something the Advertising Standards Authority is cracking down on). In my six years as Chief Executive and Senior Partner of Deloitte I've seen how our own efforts, and others, have helped change the long-standing perception of professional services as a 'closed shop' to an industry that welcomes anyone with the talent and ambition to succeed.

My conversations with clients on the issue of diversity and inclusion, particularly in industries such as law and financial services, are similar to the discussions I've had many times here at Deloitte: how do you create an environment where you value and encourage diversity? And how do you improve access to a profession that is often seen as elitist? At our firm we started addressing such issues back in 2013 when we reshaped our talent strategy, identifying areas that needed focus and those that would set us apart from our competitors.

I'd argue that not only does business need its leaders to embrace the importance of diversity, we also need the programmes to encourage change and the culture to embed it. For Deloitte, that has involved adapting our recruitment processes and marketing activities to address unconscious bias, introducing targeted initiatives like our industry-first Return to Work programme, and creating a working environment that is inclusive and respectful.

Of course, in addition to introducing such initiatives and changing the internal culture, organisations also need to consider how their business model could influence gender diversity. We want our people (and our future hires) to know that success in our firm doesn't equate to the number of hours in the office. But I do appreciate there is still the perception that delivering excellent service to clients means being at your desk, in the office, churning out documents. You can understand why for many people, both male and female, this is not the ideal way to work.

One way of shedding this stereotypical image is by investing in innovation – if we can find new ways to deliver services, it will help further open up the profession to a more diverse workforce. For example, we're already using robotics and artificial intelligence to improve the quality and insight of our audits and help companies comply with complex tax regulations across the globe. We're looking into how automation could do some of the more routine and repetitive tasks, therefore freeing up our people's time for more valuable or rewarding activities and giving them greater flexibility in how they work.

It's great to see that businesses increasingly recognise the benefit of a more inclusive environment and are responding to the challenge. I can't remember the last time I have had to stand up and make the business case for diversity – it's just a given. And this isn't limited to the issue of gender. We see increasing numbers of organisations now focused more broadly on access to their professions, whether that's increasing ethnic and racial diversity (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) or attracting more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This year we welcomed more than 280 school leavers through our BrightStart apprenticeship programme and over 1,500 of our people provided support to nearly 5,000 pupils through our Deloitte Access programme, which is designed to raise aspiration, support achievement and provide opportunities for students in low-income communities.

The issue of diversity in business has been the subject of public debate recently, particularly as the BBC revealed the earnings of its highest paid employees. Last week we published our own gender pay gap in line with new government regulations. I believe such transparency and consistency of reporting standards, while sometimes making for uncomfortable reading, will be a critical step in helping companies measure their progress and determine what actions need to be taken to address the underlying causes.

While we are making progress there is still much to do. We recognise that we don't have all the answers and should look to how we can learn from how other businesses are tackling the pay gap issue. Sustainable improvement will require a combination of time, support from leaders across the business, innovating how we deliver services, and a commitment to a maintaining a culture and working environment that enables everyone to thrive, develop and succeed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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