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A glass act

A glass act

Overcoming the shortage of professional talent is behind Deloitte's award-winning program to advance the interests of its female staff.

Deloitte has placed its flag in the sand. The firm recently won the Australian federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace

Agency award as the leading organisation for the advancement of women

in organisations with more than 500 employees.

It took the award for its Inspiring Women Initiative, launched in

2004, which comprises a series of programs seeking to identify and

support talented women in the organisation (see sidebar: Displays of

initiative").

This is not the first time that Deloitte has been recognised for its

work in this field by EOWWA. In 2004, chief executive Giam Swiegers

was recognised as the Most Promising Person for the Advancement of

Women and the following year he was named Leading CEO for the

Advancement of Women.

For Swiegers, the awards reflect years of working to keep women in the

profession, here and in South Africa.

When he arrived in the Brisbane Deloitte office from South Africa in

1997, he says: "It was pretty obvious that women were

under-represented in the profession and the office I was managing had

problems getting women in.

"That was no different to South Africa, and with the talent shortage

the obvious business solution was to make ourselves more attractive to

women in order to win an unfair share of business talent."

When Swiegers became Deloitte's Australian chief executive in 2003, he

set about creating a program that would allow the firm to attract and

retain women. In this he has worked alongside Margaret Dreyer, the

firm's lead partner for its Inspiring Women program. (Coincidentally,

Swiegers and Dreyer had also worked together in South Africa before

emigrating to Australia; Dreyer worked in Deloitte's Adelaide office

before moving to Sydney.)

Both admit that getting the program up and running has not been

without problems and that there has been a level of internal

resistance to it.

"There was some resistance around what was seen as reverse

discrimination," Dreyer says. "There is still some resistance today

from both men and women, with some younger women saying that they do

not want to be treated differently."

The response from Swiegers is that the programs are not mandatory for

women. "No matter where you position yourself, there will be women who

say that we are not doing enough and women who say that it is an

insult," he says. "You will also get men saying this is discrimination

but I feel that as 80 per cent of our partners are male, we are

obviously doing well at bringing them through."

He uses mentoring as an one area in which women may need extra help.

"In Australia, mentoring is often done over a beer when you can chat

to someone after work," he says. "But that doesn't suit women who

often have to go home to their children after work, and some male

partners may not feel comfortable asking a younger woman to come out

with them for a drink."

The solution has been to recognise male partners who have proved to be

good at mentoring women.

Swiegers and Dreyer admit there is still work to be done. While nearly

50 per cent of junior professional services ranks may be female, fewer

reach the top and Deloitte is no exception: 50 per cent of its

workforce, but only 19 per cent of its partners, are female.

The goal is to increase that percentage while always keeping a focus

on talent, Swiegers says.

Another is to also increase the number of leadership roles in the firm

held by women. In the past 12 months, new heads of audit appointed in

Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, along with the head of internal risk

services in Melbourne, have all been female.

Sidebar: Displays of initiative

Among Deloitte's Inspiring Women Initiative's programs to attract and

retain female talent are:

• The business women of the year program, designed to identify

talented women in the firm as early as possible.

• Mentoring program: A mentor can be found for both men and women in

Deloitte - this is not mandatory but rather by request.

• Structured development programs: The firm works alongside groups

such as Chief Executive Women and has also created a career-resilience

program working with Xplore for Success and a networking program

working with well-known director Linda Nicholls.

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