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Deloitte chairman Nick Owen on building 'inclusive teams, inclusive capitalism and inclusive society'

Lara O'Reilly
Executive Producer
Deloitte North West Europe Chairman Nick Owen. Photo: Jonathan Cole

Nick Owen was awarded the top spot in the annual EMpower 15 Advocate Executives list this year. The list celebrates senior leaders who are not people of colour but are dedicated to creating a more diverse and inclusive business environment for ethnic minority employees. View the full list here.

As the leader of a client-services organisation, Deloitte North West Europe Chairman Nick Owen has made it his remit to ensure the firm’s talent reflects the diverse community of people the company serves.

“We’ve come to appreciate that the more diverse people there are in the team, the more challenging, creative and constructive the answers we tend to come up with,” for clients Owen told Yahoo Finance UK.

One of the key challenges, however, is trying to achieve balance across the different strands of diversity, rather than honing in on one particular aspect.

“It isn’t about sexual orientation, colour, or ethnic background, or gender, or this, that, or the other,” Owen said. “It becomes much easier whenever you’re trying to have that conversation to put it in the context of inclusive leadership, inclusive teams, building inclusive capitalism, inclusive business, and inclusive society.”

BAME on Boards

With that mantra in mind, Owen’s diversity and inclusion scope stretches beyond Deloitte’s own employees.

“We worked out we need to start looking internally, but actually we can make a much bigger impact if we help all our clients address some of these issues,” Owen said.

As one example of this strategy in action, Owen conceived and sponsors Deloitte’s BAME on Boards programme, which is now in its second year. He encouraged FTSE chairs to nominate participants from their firms and the first cohort assembled in 2018.

The 20-to-30 senior BAME participants attend a three-day programme over six months, with tailored training across all aspects of business — from marketing, through to HR, and finance — a range of speakers and access to networks to help them develop into future board members. Also included were sessions on personal branding and training on what the investor community expects from boards.

At least one participant from the 2018 cohort has gone on to achieve a non-executive board-level position, according to Deloitte. The company also runs a similar Women on Boards programme which just finished its ninth year. Half of the 200-plus participants are now in either executive or non-executive board roles, a Deloitte spokeswoman confirmed.

Deloitte’s D&I Efforts

As for its own house, around 5% of Deloitte UK’s partners are BAME, according to the company’s 2019 Ethnicity Pay report. While that number is up from 3.9% in 2013, Deloitte has set a target for 10% of its partners to be BAME by 2021.

Last year, around 10% of employees promoted to partner level were BAME and the company increased its autumn BAME student intake from 29% of those recruited, from 26% the previous year.

“I’m very proud about what we have achieved, but I would not want you to think we have cracked it because we have got a lot of work still to do and a lot of progress still to make,” Owen said.

Other notable diversity and inclusion efforts at Deloitte include switching to “contextualised recruitment,” where the company adjusts its consideration of applicants’ academic achievements based on their backgrounds in an effort to improve social mobility. The company also went “CV blind,” as Owen calls it, to strip levels of unconscious bias from the recruiting progress. Elsewhere, the firm set out a “gender balance action plan” in 2014. Deloitte UK’s median gender gap was 16.1% in 2018.

“We definitely see [business impact] in the metrics around our people, and we think that is making a significant contribution to ... our client success, in what we are winning [and] in how we are delivering,” Owen said.