Deloitte CEO on Leadership in the Pandemic

Joe Ucuzoglu discussed how leaders can win trust

April 27, 2022

Deloitte CEO Joe Ucuzoglu believes the pandemic has revealed a need for increased corporate accountability and discussed the importance of backing up values with actions– even if certain choices conflict with the bottom line in the short term.  

Ucuzoglu explained to Dean Bill Boulding as a guest of the Distinguished Speakers Series at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, that there have been significant declines in trust in recent years and that the grounding principles to building trust are transparency, honesty, and following through on what you say.

“We made the solemn commitment to our people from the very beginning (of the pandemic) that everyone’s health and safety would be the number one overriding consideration, irrespective of any business or economic implication. And then we backed it up with our actions throughout” Ucuzoglu said.

Ucuzoglu also said business leaders must embrace accountability by truly listening.

“You don’t do that very well by digging in and having one position you’re sure is right and not wanting to listen to others,” Ucuzoglu said. “You do that by being inclusive. You do that by assembling diverse teams and being willing to listen to views other than your own, even if you might find them objectionable. Because the worst that happens is you reconfirm your own point of view. And maybe once in a while, you even learn something, or evolve your view, or come to appreciate why different people might have views that differ from your own.”

Ucuzoglu said meaningfully fostering and embracing diversity isn’t only a societal issue, but is also core to a successful business strategy.  

“You want to promote that kind of a culture within your organization, to get the best out of people, to build diverse inclusive teams that in our case are ultimately going to deliver the very best, highest quality advice to clients,” Ucuzoglu said.

Early in the pandemic, Ucuzoglu said, leaders at the firm recognized the potential for the pandemic to have a disproportionate impact on women in the organization because many were shouldering the brunt of their family’s caregiving responsibilities.

“We’ve seen that play out more broadly in society, and we made a commitment on day one that we were not going to let these circumstances take us backwards in terms of all of the tremendous progress and leadership that we’d made relative to gender,” he said.

Deloitte Global research surveyed 5,000 working women across 10 countries found that during the pandemic, most women faced an increased workload, and a majority were also their family’s primary caregivers. As a result of these shifts, more than half of women surveyed were less optimistic about their career prospects as a result of the pandemic.

Findings in the survey suggest that with more open communication and trust, as well as more flexible schedules, work arrangements and opportunities for training, organizations could create more equitable environments for women. At Deloitte, efforts like these led to a lower turnover rate within the firm for women than for men during the pandemic, “and that’s the exact opposite of what you’ve seen more broadly in terms of the brunt of the pandemic from an employment standpoint being disproportionate,” Ucuzoglu said.

The company also focused on mental health. “The incredible challenges that people have in this type of societal circumstance, impact on family members, implications of isolation and social norms being disrupted,” he said. “So we said we’re going to put programs in place, not just to be there for our people and support them when they need resources, but to normalize the topic.”

All of these efforts are dimensions of creating a diverse and inclusive culture, Ucuzoglu said. Deloitte has a track record of working toward gender equity, as evidenced by its efforts in the 1990s when the firm was among the first in its field to put programmatic efforts around the advancement of women, he said.

Acknowledging there is still much work to do, Deloitte launched its inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Transparency Report in 2021, disaggregating the data to measure and address the problem head-on, he said.

“There are a lot of things where we’re nowhere where we need to be, in terms of representation,” he said. “So, we put all of that out there with an expectation that it would be met with a response of appreciation, as opposed to a response of critique. And that’s exactly what we got. People don’t expect perfection. They expect honesty. They expect transparency. They expect straight talk, and they expect a plan around what are you going to do about it.”

With the report, Deloitte set specific goals related to DEI in its sourcing, assignment processes, promotion processes, and other areas, he said. “In a little over a year, the progress has been remarkable, but there’s always a balance between celebrating great progress without, in any way, declaring victory, because we still have an enormous amount of work to do,” he said.

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