Diversity & Inclusion

Creating an Environment Where Employees Feel Safe Bringing Their Authentic Selves to Work

For this installment of our series on corporate diversity leaders, we’ve spoken to Ayo Odusote, a principal in Deloitte Consulting’s Customer and Marketing  practice with nearly two decades of consulting experience who is focused on serving clients in the telecom and technology sectors. While that introduction might not immediately strike someone as having anything to do specifically with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Odusote also serves as the DEI lead for Deloitte Consulting. In this role, he works to create an inclusive, meaningful, and consistent talent experience for Deloitte employees to enable them to bring their full, authentic selves to the workplace.

Ayo Odusote DEI
Ayo Odusote, Principal and DEI leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP

DEI Particularly Critical in Consulting Practices

A strong DEI culture should be a key element of any business plan, regardless of industry or offering. But in some businesses, the case for DEI programs is particularly clear, and the consulting industry is a great example. Consulting is inherently a “people” business. Consulting firms recruit and develop their people, who can see and understand the business challenges and objectives of their clients, and it’s up to those consultants to be able to connect and communicate with stakeholders at client companies.

Diversity is crucial to the consulting business in many respects, but a few stand out as particularly salient. First, diverse groups bring their diverse backgrounds and experiences to their organizations, which, in turn, creates more robust pictures of the world and helps prevent people from viewing problems and opportunities through narrow lenses. Second, diverse teams are better able to connect with counterparts at client organizations. While it certainly isn’t necessary to match a client’s diversity perfectly for a successful business relationship to grow, it does help build and develop connections when key stakeholders can relate to one another. Third, because diversity is a benefit to an organization, diversity being present at all levels of the company can be a self-perpetuating asset because the presence of diverse staff helps with the recruitment of additional diverse staff. All else being equal, diverse job candidates understandably prefer to work for organizations that demonstrate a commitment to DEI because those organizations are places where they feel they can be accepted, grow, and excel.

A Business-Centric Perspective Driven by Personal Experience

As noted above, Odusote’s background isn’t necessarily one that has been driven first and foremost by DEI efforts. He joined Deloitte in 2005 just after finishing business school at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Before pursuing his MBA, Odusote earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Ife in Nigeria.

When Odusote first started at Deloitte, fresh out of college, he was one of only two black people in his group of 30+ consultants. That lack of diversity made an impact and drove him to commit to doing something to make a difference for future classes of Deloitte consultants to boost that diversity. “I started working in a minor, grassroots way on diversity efforts at Deloitte,” he says. One of his key areas of focus was on bringing diverse talent into the recruitment process.

“I invested my time in trying to make sure we recruited more diverse practitioners into our organization,” he explains. “I spearheaded an initiative with management, and we worked to source and hire diverse talent from a number of business schools and grad schools from across the country, undergraduate students as well.”

Leveraging a Passion and Aptitude for DEI Work

The feedback Odusote received from his efforts at promoting DEI within Deloitte was very positive. He was viewed as being passionate about this kind of work and was given the opportunity to do that work on a larger scale. Odusote says these initial efforts at greater diversity in recruitment are ultimately what led him to his current role.

His focus, he says, is advancing an “inclusive environment where our team members can bring their whole authentic selves to work.” Their ability to do that has had a massive positive impact on Deloitte’s clients.

He’s focused his work on what he calls “the six A’s.” They are:

  • Acquisition. Investing in sourcing, hiring, and onboarding practices to enhance the diversity of candidates.
  • Advancement. Creating a well-orchestrated experience and support to drive personal and professional development.
  • Attrition. Using data to identify professionals who might be at risk of leaving and to be proactive in interventions to help keep them on board.
  • Allyship. Educating and supporting employees to enlist their efforts in understanding and addressing anti-ism concepts.
  • Affinity. Creating identity-based communities to create meaningful connections and foster a culture of belonging.
  • Accountability. A DEI framework with specific, measurable, and role-based goals for all Deloitte leaders.

Deloitte has made its focus on accountability quite public, releasing its first public DEI Transparency Report in 2021 that offers a look into its DEI data, progress, and goals for the future.

Deloitte has also been somewhat unique in its approach to employee resource groups (ERGs), being purposefully inclusive about group membership. Employees don’t need to identify as a member of a group’s population—they’re welcome to join the group as an ally, to further their education and understanding of different communities, to expand their networks, and to identify ways to help advance allyship.

Focusing on Internal DEI Helps Drive External DEI and Client Satisfaction

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key elements to the success of any organization, and for consulting businesses like Deloitte, they are particularly critical. Consulting fundamentally requires building relationships and effectively communicating an understanding of the outside world. An organization that has a culture of diversity and inclusion can build relationships and effective communication and benefit considerably because the company already has experience working with and embracing diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and cultures.

A strong DEI infrastructure also supports the development of a more comprehensive, thorough, and insightful view of the broader world. Finally, because nobody works forever and companies are finding it particularly difficult to recruit and retain talent in the context of the Great Resignation, DEI efforts are a key tool for succession planning and recruitment generally.

By putting an emphasis on their DEI efforts with the help of leaders like Odusote, companies like Deloitte ensure that they’re well positioned to support the successful growth and development of both their clients and their companies.

By being purposeful, intentional, and transparent, Deloitte is creating a culture and climate where all employees feel safe bringing their authentic selves to work.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.