Representation is important – a diverse workforce makes for a better business, financially, culturally and credibly. Despite this, the business world, like so many other industries, is still slowly making the long journey towards having a fair workforce. Deloitte Asia Pacific CEO, Cindy Hook, has become a prominent spokesperson for the importance of diversity in recent years. Speaking at global events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Cindy is proactively pushing the conversation both here at Deloitte and in the wider business world.

Having been with the Deloitte for over 30 years, she’s seen the firm and the business community develop – at least, to an extent. In an interview with Deloitte New Zealand, Cindy points out that there are two sides of the story – ‘on one side, it has moved massively and female representation has almost doubled at Deloitte since I made partner in the 1990s. However, I went to my first gender bias training 28 years ago and we’ve still not moved forward enough. If this was any other business objective, we’d call that a failure.’

Despite her commitment to speaking up for diversity, talking about these issues wasn’t something Cindy was initially comfortable with. She became the first female CEO of the Australian ‘big four’ when she stepped up to lead Deloitte Australia in 2015, and was conscious that this milestone meant that she’d be asked about the diversity debate far more than her male colleagues. While it was a big stride for Deloitte, Cindy was wary that through engaging in these discussions, it might encourage people to view her role as a token choice or one arranged to meet a quota.

That changed in recent years. Understanding the benefits of equal representation, she began to view the need for diversity as a business imperative for Deloitte. With that in mind, her views on how businesses can achieve it similarly changed. Once cynical about quotas and how they affected perceptions, Cindy says:

‘I'll tell you that my view on quotas has changed 180 degrees. As an up and coming woman in the firm, I was 100% against quotas, saying they'll only think I got that role because I'm a woman. Then I became a CEO, and I noted that in every shift I'm trying to make in this business, I have measures and targets. If we don't hit the targets, there's consequences for it. Now, if you set a measurable target and there's a consequence for not achieving it, is it a quota? Pretty close. So I believe that we need specific measures that we hold ourselves accountable to as leaders.’

Cindy also names sponsorship as a crucial way to achieve diversity, recognising that getting a step up often requires the support of someone else with a little more power. She has been affiliated with Male Champions for Change, a network originally made up of eight male leaders from a variety of industries. Established in 2015, it was formed to promote gender equality across business.

As Cindy points out, inclusion initiatives have often been seen as the domain of those who are being directly negatively affected. However, she says that those at the tough end of the power balance can only do so much, saying ‘when it’s just the women talking, at some point it starts to sound like noise.’ She saw the value in Male Champions for Change, recognising that it brought men into the conversation who could use their power as advocates. Not only that, but ‘if the men can see that this isn’t about disadvantaging men, they can see that it’s about making a stronger, more successful organisation which creates opportunity for everyone.’

'I went to my first gender bias training 28 years ago and we’ve still not moved forward enough. If this was any other business objective, we’d call that a failure.’

One of those Male Champions was Deloitte Australia CEO at the time, Giam Swiegers. As Cindy puts it, ‘he gave me the exposure and the experience I needed to be considered’ when Swiegers left the CEO role vacant, making her one of the first beneficiaries of the Male Champions initiative.

However, while it’s important that those at the top lead the charge, how can we encourage change across all levels of the business? Cindy knows what it’s like to try and get people recruited to a cause – she brought in equal parental leave for men and women during her time at Deloitte Australia, and called it the ‘cheapest policy we ever put in’ when one year later, it emerged that just 15% of the eligible men were using this benefit. To get their buy-in, Cindy took a strong stance to prove that breadwinning and caregiving should be treated equally:

‘I stood in front of the whole firm and I pointed out that in a year, there had been 350 babies born to people in the company. Around 175 women had taken advantage of the parental leave, but barely any of the men had. To illustrate to the firm what they could be missing out, I decided to put up three examples of dads - one who had done it and it had worked great, one who was considering it and one who didn't do it and who was looking back at his children growing up, wishing he had. It was needed to shift the conversation.’

As her experience proved, getting people engaged in change isn’t easy and, in the end, you have to reach your own measure to recognise when you’re making a difference. Cindy says when it comes to buy-in in business, ‘you're never going to get 100% but you've got to get to the tipping point. You need to get 70 or 80% of that group to say ‘I believe in that and I'm going to change.’’

For Cindy, achieving diversity always comes back to one big underlying factor - the need for an inclusive culture. It’s something she’s prioritised in her work, saying:

‘If you think about inclusion, at the basic level, it comes down to fairness and respect - are you having respect for everybody? At the next level, it's about sense of belonging - do I belong here, do I have purpose and mission? And in the highest level of inclusion it’s about psychological safety, meaning I'm safe to be who I am and speak up.’

She emphasises her approach in promoting inclusion in the Asia Pacific firm as building a culture that is ‘united and unique’, a challenge in such a huge region of the world but something she’s optimistic for. As Cindy says,

‘I can feel in some of the topics, discussions and movements happening right now that the momentum is building and it's not going away. I think we're going to see even bigger, more rapid change, and that is really exciting.’

Read our other article from Cindy Hook's New Zealand visit, all about her inspirational career journey so far.

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