By Gianmarco Monsellato
Taj, I am proud to say as CEO, is one of the leading international law firms in France. We are in the top tier in our industry, specializing in international tax and legal strategies and a part of the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited international network.
In 2004, however, Taj was a second-tier firm. The goal for the executive team was to attain a market-leading position. We knew that greater innovation was essential to meeting our goal, and we recognized that diversity would be essential to driving that innovation.
Creating a values-based culture, built on fairness, trust and openness, and working to better equip our employees to behave in inclusive ways became our priorities. Diversity and flexibility were embedded into our talent and business processes, emphasizing individual’s strengths rather than weaknesses.
Our commitment to innovation and diversity resulted in Taj’s sensational rise in the French market both in reputation and organic growth. In a difficult economy and shrinking market, we saw growth of 70 percent. Taj also dramatically increased representation of women in leadership positions and created a culture that redefined the model for success for all employees.
Seven gender-diversity principles underpin Taj’s success:
1. Gain senior-management commitment.
Despite advances in education and political participation, women in France remain underrepresented in business-leadership positions. To increase diversity across all levels, everyone is afforded the same client opportunities, regardless of gender. Today, half of our executive roles are filled by women, and 42 percent of the firm’s partners are women.
2. Ensure you have a diverse set of people in the room when making important decisions.
We have been successful in ensuring there is an equal split of men and women present during important discussions—most particularly hiring and promotion discussions.
3. Ensure leaders have competencies in inclusive leadership.
I am a firm believer that leaders must respect people and their differences, understand how to manage challenges and setbacks, and listen to all people regardless of level.
4. Effectively manage change, challenges and setbacks.
We put an emphasis on managing differences and treating everyone equally as individuals and with respect. Men and women may work differently and have different expectations and definitions of success, but everyone at Taj has the opportunity to be successful as long as they are competent. The business model gives professionals the flexibility to dial up or dial down responsibilities to accommodate each stage in their professional lives.
5. Listen to people, invest in them equally, and teach them what is important.
Male and female employees are invited to work on the same types of assignments; the best assignments are not saved for a select few. Our performance evaluations for women returning from maternity leave, sick leave, etc., are based on the time they spent working and not based on the full year and the contribution they could have made. Pay for men and women are equal by level and performance, with women representing five of Taj’s 10 highest-compensated employees.
6. Diversity is part of our culture.
Men and women may work differently and have different expectations and definitions of success. However, partners generally manage differences effectively and do not expect different levels of performance from men or women. Therefore, there is as much opportunity for women and men with equal competencies to succeed.
7. Measure promotions—female promotions.
We measure female promotions at all levels and evaluate partners on promoting women to ensure there are representative numbers of women in senior and leadership roles. It’s as important for partners to build their people as it is for them to build their business.
I truly believe that to be successful, initiatives for culture change must be specific to each organization. For organizations seeking to improve diversity, comparing Taj’s seven diversity lessons against your processes, policies and practices may help to identify issues and behaviors, and lead to appropriate solutions for positive change. At Taj, developing a specific culture helped drive and support positive change for the benefit of the business and our people.
Gianmarco Monsellato is CEO of the international law firm Taj, headquartered in France and a member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.