EY Global CEO Mark Weinberger: 'High-Performance Teams Have to be Diverse and Inclusive'

In a Q&A with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, Mark Weinberger discusses how diversity and inclusion align with his firm's goals, and why he continues to try to make it a more inclusive workplace.

LUKE VISCONTI: Your background seems to be exceptional for a CEO—the government-service aspect of it was particularly interesting. How do you think your diversity of experiences added value to you as a leader at EY?

MARK WEINBERGER: I did work in government for a long period of time, in different elements, for different political parties. I was an entrepreneur—started my own firm and grew it until I sold it—and have worked in big business. The advantage it gives you is to be nimble, to learn how to really listen and distill lots of different points of view, and be able to try and carry it forward. When you're in government you don't have authority to get all the votes you need from different members of Congress, so you have to persuade them, you have to convince them of the why not just the what—that's really important in business, too.

When you're an entrepreneur and you need to create your own brand and you've got to build yourself up and tell people why they should hire you as a small startup, you've got to convince them of the why. You've got to persuade them of what you bring that's different. When you run a large organization and you have 175,000 people around the world, you've got to get them to understand the direction you're going in and move them in that way, and that's all skills you learn from each of those different elements of the roles that I've had.

VISCONTI: Is there a personal reason that diversity and inclusiveness are important to you?

WEINBERGER: Diversity and inclusiveness has both a social and a business element. I have three sisters, and one sister worked in New Jersey as a manager at a steel plant. At that time, 30 years ago, she was one of the very few women who had a role like that. She used to come home with stories about how she'd get beat up all the time, and how her peers and colleagues and the people who worked for her didn't respect her. She had to earn it over time. I thought, 'Why? Why should you have to earn any differently than a man?'

Today, I have a daughter, and she's going to be the first one leaving the nest and I don't want her to have to go out and explain herself any differently than my three sons do, as to why she should be qualified for a role. There are personal elements we all bring to our job, but it's also hugely a business element. I have seen it in practice.

When you have teams that are diverse and are inclusive, you absolutely have a higher product, more quality, better financial results and, frankly, a better environment within to work.

VISCONTI: How do diversity and inclusiveness align with EY's purpose and growth goals?

WEINBERGER: We want to be the best professional-services organization in the world. When you're doing that you can't ignore half the world, which is women. So first of all, you've got to understand how women think. And traditionally we have a society that's grown up with more men in leadership roles; that's going to change over time.

From a diversity standpoint, you look at where our growth is going to come from and the growth of all of our clients in the future. Today about 12 percent of our revenue comes from emerging markets. Fast forward to 2020: We're predicting about 30 percent of our revenue is going to come from emerging markets. So we need to understand how people who are consumers and clients in those markets think. How do you do that if you don't have some ties culturally, some background, some experiences? Increasingly, we need to have a workforce that mirrors our client base.

Over half the people we hire off campuses today are women. We have to help them get through the workforce, balance their personal and professional life, and make it through to partnership.

VISCONTI: What are you doing to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion?

WEINBERGER: As a leader, you have to set the right tone. You have to let people understand how important that is, again from a social and business standpoint. When I came into the organization, I spent a lot of time rebuilding our strategy—it's called Vision 2020. In the heart of our strategy is high-performance teams. That means having the very best people, and then having them team across the world better than anyone else. That team has to be diverse and it has to be inclusive.

We've put forward a new whole diversity-and-inclusiveness work plan as to how we're going to hold people accountable for building those diverse-and-inclusive teams. When I constructed our board, I've expanded it to include people from different parts of the world who weren't there before. I spend a lot of personal time talking to our teams and people about what we need to do here and how we can improve. I think that's all incredibly relevant.

We saw 22,000 different account teams in the audit business in four major countries.  Across the board, the balanced-gender teams had higher performance, both financially and from a quality standpoint. When you understand that, it's hard not to get excited about what that can do to our organization.

We also have six metrics that we've come up with to measure all of our 10,000 partners around the world. One of them is teaming and engagement. And in there we have a discussion about diverse and inclusive teams. We make the economic argument by looking at the teams' success—that is a differentiator.

VISCONTI: Isn't this is a constant process of improvement that's metrics based and you're looking at performance indicators and you're looking at ways of measuring performance? It's not natural, is what I'm saying—you have to be disciplined to do this.

WEINBERGER: Success breeds success. So when we have people who succeed and when we see teams that succeed, and they're diverse teams, everybody wants to be just like them. You have to have the tone at the top. Then you have to have the tools and equipment and mentoring to help you get there. But the real differentiator for us has been saying, "This is not an initiative." A high-performance team has to be diverse and inclusive. High-performance team is the heart of EY's strategy. It is part of our business and it's built throughout our business. Therefore, everyone understands it, like they understand the technical issues and everything else they have to do.

If you get people to follow metrics, that's not enough. If you don't culturally get them to understand why it's important for them to operate this way, and they don't see the benefit of it, then they're not true believers. That's true in diversity and inclusiveness, but it's also true in almost any element of business.

VISCONTI: It wasn't that long ago that accounting firms were all male and it was a very tough environment for anybody but the majority. That's changed dramatically, especially at EY. How did you get folks to start working together?

WEINBERGER: Metrics are only one component of how you get people motivated to do something—you have to build it culturally. Socially they get it—they know that it's important to treat people the same and to work with all different types of people. But when they understand the value of getting people together with different views and perspectives and how you come up with better solutions, from a quality and financial standpoint, then it becomes another way for them to succeed and they realize the self-motivation that it drives as well and that's really, really important.

VISCONTI: You have to have good people though. They've got to be able to overcome preconceptions or the way they've thought of things in the past and be able to evolve.

WEINBERGER: You're absolutely right. You have to have good people and you have to have good role models. That's the issue you see in the accounting firms and some of the professional organizations: Most of the role models have been white males, and particularly Western white males. So we have to get rid of any unconscious bias. We also have got to go ahead and get programs in place to help people succeed and give new people the opportunity to rise up and be role models.

One of the things I started when I was back in the Tax business was Discover EY, which is aimed particularly at minorities and bringing them into the profession. These are people who have not yet bought into tax and audit and M&A advisory as their skill set that they want to do for a living. We tell them all about what we do and we get them excited about what we do. Our success rate of bringing them into the organization has been huge and it's increased our hiring of minorities.

With regard to the women, we have something called Career Watch where we help women and other minorities who come through the organization get special attention, to help them get to where they can be. They have to earn it—we don't give them anything they don't deserve—but then the expectation is they'll become role models and then they will help people below them.

VISCONTI: EY has been ranked in DiversityInc's top 10 for the last few years. How does EY communicate its diversity success? How do you see this as part of your reputation and what you communicate to your clients?

WEINBERGER: We talk about our awards because it's third-party validation of what we want to believe about ourselves. Most importantly, we talk about it internally.

We have 175,000 people who are brand ambassadors to the world. If they believe that we're a good place to work, and we truly are inclusive and diverse and we celebrate that, reward that, then they're going to go and express that to all their clients. That is more valuable than us taking out an advertisement in a magazine.

EY, Kaiser Permanente, Novartis, PwC and Sodexo have been inducted into DiversityInc's Top 50 Hall of Fame. The companies inducted into the Hall of Fame have demonstrated exceptional human capital management accomplishments and superior corporate values and culture.

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