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Deloitte CEO: Create success on your own terms

Wednesday, July 27, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Deloitte's Alison Kenney Paul questioned her organization's CEO, Cathy Engelbert, on women's leadership and gender equality. 

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIFORNIA -- Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte LLP, never aspired to be a CEO, she aspired to lead and help others grow, Engelbert told 300 industry senior executives at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 26, 2016. "I think it’s important for women not to aspire to fit a certain box.”

In a conversation with past NEW Board Chair Alison Kenney Paul, global lead client service partner at Deloitte, Engelbert shared her personal career journey and what she’s learned along the way.

On being a leader
"Good leadership is being your best at the darkest moments.”

On building a career
"It's not linear. Create the career that works for you."

On the gender "confidence gap”
The confidence gap became clear to the 30-year veteran of Deloitte when she spoke to a group of 250 women leaders and the first woman to ask a question during the Q&A session began with "I’m sorry…” "It was a fabulous question,” Engelbert said, ”but I couldn’t get past the ‘I’m sorry.’”

On work/life balance
The mother of two teenagers, whose husband also has a travel-heavy career, said she "failed” at work/life balance – "because, like many of you, I’m a perfectionist.” The CEO now aims for work/life integration, taking the time she needs for what is important to her, even if she needs to put work on hold. This has allowed her to have more quality time with her family. By being vocal about what she was doing with family during business hours – coaching her daughter’s basketball team and making 5:30 pm practices, for instance – others feel they can coach teams, go to dance recitals and participate in other activities that called for them to step away from work. The role modeling keeps high potential women who may have been worried about having a career and a family at Deloitte.

On gender quotas
"[The process for promotions] has to be a meritocracy,” she said, "or women will be put into positions for which they aren’t ready and will fail.”

On today’s diverse workforce
Of the 24,000 Deloitte U.S. employees hired last year, 66 percent were women and multicultural; 90 percent were millennials. "We must define inclusion and diversity very broadly. We have to get this right.”

On getting rid of employees’ twice yearly evaluations and performance ratings
"We were hiring the country’s best and brightest, then telling them they are ‘average,” she said. "My daughter will post something on Instagram and get 500 likes in five minutes. We were giving our employees feedback twice a year.”

On mentorship and sponsorship
"I didn’t even know what a sponsor was five or 10 years ago,” Engelbert said, "I had a sponsor and didn’t even know it. He was a man I worked with for just one day years ago. That work led to another project and he became my sponsor, keeping a dashboard on me, but I knew nothing about it until three years ago.”

Being a sponsor means being a voice for someone not in the room. She recalled a time when there was discussion about a woman taking on a new role and a man said, "She’s a single mom of teenagers. I don’t think it’s right for her.” Engelbert stepped up and suggested the group ask the woman what she wanted. "Sure enough, she wanted to take the role on,” Engelbert said. "If I hadn’t been in the room and advocated for her, she would have been passed over. It’s up to all of us to speak up and put ourselves out there.”

On gender bias in the workplace
"We can’t be frustrated. There are stereotypes out there. We need to fight on.”

On asking for what you want
When a recent senior position opened up, nine men knocked on Engelbert’s door asking for the role. Not a single woman approached her. "Why did I have to go pluck women out of a crowd to consider?”

On taking risks
"I say ‘We can fail, but fail fast and move on.’ I’ve had failure -- not building a capacity or building a relationship or have let people down,” Engelbert said. "But that is when I’ve learned the most.”

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