August 19, 2020 | Q&A Spotlight

Q&A with West Monroe CEO Kevin McCarty: Why I signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge

Our CEO Kevin McCarty and West Monroe remain committed to the journey of cultivating change and fostering a more diverse workforce

More than 1,000 CEOs and presidents have signed a pledge outlining a specific set of actions they will take to promote diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. The pledge? To cultivate a trusting environment where all ideas are welcomed, and employees feel comfortable and empowered to have discussions about diversity and inclusion. West Monroe’s CEO Kevin McCarty shares why he recently signed the pledge and what commitments he is making toward creating a more diverse consulting firm.

Q&A with Kevin McCarty

What prompted you to sign the pledge? Why this and why now? 

West Monroe employees know this already, but I have a bias toward action—it’s something that drives many aspects of our business at West Monroe. I tend to be leery of pledges for this reason as they can often feel like lip service, but as I learned more about the CEO Action pledge, I connected not only with its premise but its focus on tangible action and accountability. Recent events illustrated to me that we have not only the opportunity, but an obligation, to have a much stronger voice on issues around diversity and racial equity—however, that voice must be coupled with action. The pledge is another step in our commitment to encourage and cultivate change for a more diverse workforce at West Monroe. It’s the actions we will take in the coming months and years that will make the most significant impact.  

Where is West Monroe on its I&D journey? What has the firm accomplished so far and where does it still have work to do? 

When we started focusing on our inclusion and diversity journey in 2016, we began with inclusion—that’s why we refer to it as I&D instead of D&I. We felt that it was important to reinforce a culture where everyone has an equal voice before we focused on diversity metrics. Now that we have some of the fundamentals in place on awareness and education around inclusion, it’s time to increase action. 

We are now working to refine our I&D strategy, uncover inequity in our processes, and establish actionable steps to address them. We are allocating resources to ensure we can really move the needle on diversity with a mix of shorter-term and longer-term actions accompanied by measurable goals. Some immediate actions for us now include having “courageous conversations” with employees through listening sessions on racial inequity, and refining our job requirements to look beyond degrees and consulting background and focus on past experience and future potential. In addition, we reactivated a search we began late last year for someone to lead our I&D strategy, and expect to have the position filled soon.  

Tell us about your individual journey with I&D. What changes in opinion or perspective have changed for you along the way? 

As consultants, we are fast learners, and our I&D journey has been a continuous learning experience for me. Along with other members of our executive team, I recently read a book that helped me better understand how my experiences influence my biases. While I believed in the concepts of inclusion, diversity, and equity, much of the book resonated with me in a new light – for instance, as consultants we travel all the time. I have been doing it my entire career. I never thought about how my colleagues of color may have a hard time hailing a cab or experience anxiety as they go through airport security. If we want to change the demographics of the consulting industry, we need to recognize that sailing through the consulting travel lifestyle isn’t simple for everyone. 

I also used to think that being “colorblind” was the goal to aspire to – I understand now that this concept can invalidate people’s identities and denies the existence of injustices. And we need different perspectives and backgrounds to serve our clients most effectively. I also recognize our people need different styles of training and support to be successful, and that’s something to celebrate. 

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that scale matters in this business. As we grow, business development gets easier, our network grows bigger, and the brand gets more traction. When we started this firm, we tapped people in our network to join us – and often, those people looked just like me. I now know I&D is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the only way to sustainably scale. We need to attract and retain more of the best and brightest talent, and we have to broaden our net to do so. 

I now know I&D is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the only way to sustainably scale. We need to attract and retain more of the best and brightest talent, and we have to broaden our net to do so.

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How have you seen “unconscious bias” show up in the workplace? What is something as CEO you’ve personally done to overcome it? 

One of the areas where unconscious bias shows up in the workplace is in the recruiting process. We used to employ something called a “culture fit” interview – but “fit” ends up being code for “is this person similar to me?” It can result in bias toward candidates who went to the same schools or have the same interests. Staffing is another area with potential for bias. Project managers tend to tap the same people over and over again because they are comfortable with them. That can mean someone else is being excluded from a great opportunity to grow. 

We have taken action to help combat unconscious bias. Speaking to my examples above, we developed training in 2019 that we are now embedding into our core curriculum and are making mandatory for directors. In 2017, our talent acquisition team retired the culture fit interview and implemented a values alignment interview to allow us to focus on hiring for culture “adds” rather that culture “fit.” 

As for my own role, I try to partake in as many learning opportunities as possible – both West Monroe training and external sources. In the era of easy-to-attend Zoom webinars, over the past months during COVID, I’ve been attending many leadership forums on the topic of I&D.  As CEO I’m also responsible for growing the firm so we can provide opportunity not only for new hires to join West Monroe, but for our people to grow as leaders within the firm. 

How have clients and employees brought up I&D in recent conversations? 

We know our clients care about and prioritize I&D as much as we do. One thing we heard as we began this journey is that clients were concerned that we wouldn’t be effective partners because our project teams weren’t always reflective of their communities or organizations. 

Our employees want to ensure we aren’t “othering” groups of people and are focused on creating an environment where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work. One question recently posed is “what power are privileged groups willing to give up to ensure progress is made against inclusion and diversity?”

This is closely connected to another theme I hear, which is that it feels like our individual values aren’t always represented firmwide. In particular, at our leadership level, where we need to make significantly more progress in terms of diversity, similar to how we focus on it in other areas of the firm. That’s why we are setting measurable hiring goals and requirements for diverse slates of candidates at our leadership levels. 

What advice do you have for other CEOs based on your personal experience so far? What do you want to learn from other CEOs? 

Here’s some of my biggest lessons learned: 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: This journey will require you to challenge your thinking and assumptions and discuss topics you may have never considered before—particularly if you are a white male like me. It will require you to have vulnerable conversations, both with your leadership team and your employees. It’s time to lean into this and accept that it’s part of the ride—it will make you a better leader. 

Take a top-down and a bottoms-up approach: Our people are very passionate about I&D and want to have a role—and they do, through our I&D council and employee resource groups. However, it is also important for leadership to make I&D central to our strategy and model our values for the rest of the firm. As I said, I’m ready for action – and I welcome everyone in the organization to send me their ideas: where they see bias in our systems, and where we need to improve. 

Seek outside advice: We are not experts on this topic. We have enlisted an outside firm to articulate our strategy and develop a roadmap and metrics. We are also actively recruiting a diverse board member to fill an open position as well as an I&D manager who wakes up every day thinking about I&D. If you want to move fast, you need to make sure you are tapping the right resources.   

As we work to make visible, tangible changes to our firm, I am seeking advice on building a more representative leadership team and ensuring we have effective mentoring and succession planning to enable this. Our mission is to build the next generation of leaders, and we don’t want to just find diverse talent from the outside – we want to make sure all our people have the support and resources necessary to grow into leaders, both for the firm and for their communities. 

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