INTERVIEW WITH CHRYSTELLE SIMON - Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader, Deloitte Central Mediterranean

08 Jun 2021

By the Editorial staff

Chrystelle, where were you born? 

In France, in Brittany. 

How did the cultural diversity of your family or the environment you grew up in influence you?

My professional and personal life experiences have led me to live in several different countries (Germany, the US, Italy) and to work with diverse teams, with regard to nationality and culture.

What did you study? Did you study in France or abroad?

I studied in France (scientific lyceum) and then graduated with a degree in Economics before completing my studies with two master’s degrees, one in Finance and Accounting and one in Business and Administration. I have always believed that developing, growing and evolving is an ongoing journey. It is no coincidence that I specialised in Psychological Safety & Emotional Intelligence Assessment, which I am a Certified Trainer & Coach for, as well as being an Inclusive Leadership Coach. Recently I have also been doing an executive coaching course.

What was your first professional role and what expectations did you have before you started working?

I started my career as an auditor at one of the Big Four, specialising in the Financial Industry sector. My expectation has always been to develop a systemic and holistic vision with a view to improvement. 

How have you seen diversity and inclusion change in the last five years, abroad and particularly in Italy?

Pressure from investors, clients, and social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the impact of the pandemic and the evolution of regulation have all moved sustainability up the agenda for boards of directors; companies have become more conscientious and strategic about how they manage environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).  In fact, at least three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are directly connected to diversity, equity and inclusion (goal 5: gender equality, goal 10: reduced inequalities and goal 3: good health and wellbeing) and numerous studies underline the business results of an inclusive culture.  For example, the Bersin DEI Maturity Model (Deloitte) illustrates this paradigm shift from level 1 – where diversity is tolerated (we talk about equality) and the approach is compliance-based, i.e. it focuses on respecting laws related to diversity – to level 4, where diversity is conceived as a NECESSITY and inclusion as a PRIORITY integrated into the business strategy. At this level, DEI is integrated into company processes (bias-free) and non-inclusive behaviours are not tolerated, and some targets are set and followed by the Executive. An inclusive organisational culture translates into a winning equation: Diversity+Inclusion = better business results. Inclusive companies are six times more innovative and six times more agile: they therefore have a greater capacity to adapt. They also triple their performance and double their financial targets.  Diversity is a fact, while inclusion is a choice that allows cognitive diversity, i.e. a factor for innovation, to emerge and be cultivated.  Many companies are focusing on the development of a DEI strategy, for example on increasing the number of women in their workforces and reducing the gender pay gap, but not only. Many associations and ERGs have mobilised; in fact, a new ISO standard dedicated to DEI will be published soon. 

What are your main commitments and how is your team structured? 

At Deloitte, our approach to DEI is holistic and aims to create a push & pull effect. Our main areas of intervention to drive cultural change are the following: 

- Gender representation at all levels; 

- LGBTQI+ inclusion; 

-Promoting and enhancing multiculturalism and cognitive diversity; 

- Disability management; 

- Resilience & mental health; 

- Developing increasingly inclusive leadership, centred around our Signature Traits of an Inclusive Leader model (commitment, courage, awareness of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration); 

- Impact on society. 

The common thread guiding our approach is illustrated by the promotion of our shared values, centred on respect, the appreciation of individual diversity and the responsibility we each have to promote inclusion within our organisation.  On this journey, our 6-person team is supported by a governance structure, the DEI Committee, composed of five leaders from each business area, and a network of change agents, our communities (Parents@deloitte, Women in tech, the Globe LGBTQI+ allies network, the Female Partners communities, DEI ambassadors, etc.). 

How important are people skills at Deloitte? 

Developing inclusive leadership is one of the key levers for creating an inclusive organisational culture: that is, cultivating involvement and commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, but also the courage to enforce DE&I principles.  In fact, inclusive management is characterised by: 

  • Knowledge of biases, which we all have; 
  • Curiosity: actively seeking different perspectives in design and decision-making, showing and encouraging divergent thinking; encouraging continuous learning. 

In addition, inclusive management demonstrates cultural openness when it has the ability to work effectively and constructively with people from different backgrounds and has the ability to stimulate effective and respectful collaboration, offering team members the freedom to make decisions on issues that impact their work. These six traits represent the ability to adapt to and value individual diversity, which can be leveraged to stimulate innovation and performance, which translates into competitive advantage.  This set of positive factors also enhances psychological safety in work teams, which is defined as a condition in which team members feel "included, safe to learn, safe to contribute and to play to their strengths and safe to challenge the status quo" without FEAR of being marginalised or suffering negative consequences in their careers. At Deloitte, we are committed to reinforcing these skills: we focus on the so-called shadow of the leader, i.e. the effect that certain behaviours by a leader have on employees’ perceptions in terms of inclusion and psychological safety. In fact, a well-known Deloitte research project (The Diversity & Inclusion Revolution: Eight Powerful Truths, by Juliette Bourke and Bernadette Dillon) indicates that an inclusive leader’s behaviours can increase the sense of inclusion felt by team members in corporate contexts by up to 70%. 

How would you define an inclusive workplace? 

An inclusive organisational culture focuses on valuing all diversities as unique, in order to create a working environment where people feel: 

- “Free and safe to be their authentic selves”; i.e. free to be themselves, authentically without fear of negative consequences for their careers; 

- Respected and valued for their contributions; 

- Connected to each other and to the organisation; 

- Part of a culture that supports equity in all processes; 

- "Empowered to grow and do their best work": empowered to grow and express their strengths and ideas.

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