The Proof Is in the Payback

John Ferraro, Americas vice-chair, client service, talks about Ernst & Young’s priorities.

W e hear a lot in business about the importance of the tone at the top in motivating people to do the right thing. What leaders do (not just say) is a defining factor in how the rest of the organization behaves. The right tone is essential not only in setting ethical expectations, but in helping people understand the organization’s priorities.

A top priority at Ernst & Young LLP is retaining and developing our talented and experienced women. With Ernst & Young’s strategy based on people and quality, it makes all the sense in the world for us to focus on growing and advancing women. We are meeting not only our commitment to inclusiveness, but also the demands of our clients, who increasingly tell us they expect to find diversity at the table.

So retaining and developing women just makes great business sense. For Ernst & Young it has paid significant, measurable dividends. A couple of years ago, we created a “flash report” of the benefits from our efforts to retain female client service employees. We found our efforts translated into savings of about $10 million a year—money that otherwise would have been spent recruiting, training and developing new talent.

There are two major reasons for our success in developing and promoting women. First, we focused on providing our women (as well as the men) with the flexibility they need to fulfill their commitments outside the office while succeeding in their work. Second, our engagement in women’s careers has sent a clear message that we believe in them and are ready and willing to invest in their advancement, and they can succeed with us. A recent research report cofunded by Ernst & Young confirmed that not only is flexibility key in keeping talented women on the road to success, but so is active support of their career goals.

Getting the buy-in of senior leaders is not enough—their ownership also is critical; that means not just the support of male leaders, but their involvement and continual innovation. We’ve seen that at Ernst & Young, and from my vantage point as the executive sponsor of our firm’s inclusiveness efforts, I believe it has been essential to our success in developing and retaining women.

An innovator among our senior leaders is Paul Bader, Americas vice-chair/transaction advisory services. While he was New York area managing partner, he created an in-house “Career Watch” program. It ensures top-performing women are assigned to top clients, business development opportunities and projects, and get the opportunities they need to grow and excel—not on the basis of work schedules but, instead, on performance and talent. Reduced workweeks should mean a smaller workload and proportionate pay, but not less interesting work.

Another advocate of women’s development is Michel Lanteigne, who led Ernst & Young’s tax practice in Canada until his retirement. He encouraged women team members to make presentations to senior management, letting them take center stage to showcase their abilities and hone their skills. Currently more than half of the Canadian tax practice leaders are women; two of the three regional tax practice leaders are women; and Michel’s successor as tax managing partner for all of Canada is a woman.

David Alexander, our Southwest area managing partner in Dallas, also dedicates serious time to advancement issues. He attends two all-day sessions annually in which people with supervisory duties examine whether the career advancement needs of every female minority manager and senior manager in the geographic area are being met. He also meets twice a year with the area’s principals, partners and directors to discuss women’s issues and vigorously promotes Ernst & Young’s professional women’s network events.

These are just a few of the male leaders who not only support but also innovate and lead our efforts to create the right environment for that advancement.

If all of us work hard to help women and minorities find their place in all our organizations, everyone will prosper. I firmly believe in that—not only as the right thing to do, but also as a business imperative.

Ask women and minorities for their points of view—with the goal of more frequent and candid conversations on a variety of topics.

Don’t assume that a woman with young children won’t or can’t travel.

Don’t assume “what kind of person” a client will want on a project.

Encourage managers to put together diverse slates of names when they are assembling teams.

Offer honest, timely and constructive feedback to women and minorities so they will recognize their development needs.

Become a role model and mentor. Talk about the ideals of flexibility and diversity and do things that are consistent with what you’re saying. If you get a new insight about flexibility or diversity, share it with others—especially male colleagues.

Invite women and minorities to go with you in a variety of professional settings. Offer them chances to make presentations and meet influential people.

The Track Record
In 1996, 5% of Ernst & Young partners were women; today women make up 13% of the partner level—an increase of 160%.

In 1996, 30% of Ernst & Young managers and senior managers were women; today women make up 39% of those management levels.


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