Antoinette (Tonie) Leatherberry, a Principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, is a practice leader in the firm’s consumer and industrial products practice. Leatherberry is a board member of the Network of Executive Women. She will pull double-duty at next month’s NEW Multicultural Workforce Conference, moderating a best practices panel on “The Business Impact of Diversity” and sharing her views on a panel focused on “Leveraging Employee Resource Groups.”
Leatherberry helps Fortune 100 clients in the retail and consumer industries develop business solutions that address information technology challenges in governance, risk and compliance. A recognized leader in the industry, she was nominated for the 2008 Computerworld Magazine Premier 100 IT Leader award and graced the cover of Consulting magazine as one of the profession’s top 25 consultants. Most recently, Leatherberry was recognized as a Top 100 under 50 Leader by Diversity MBA magazine.
Leatherberry is the chairperson of Deloitte Consulting’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a national initiative dedicated to improving organizational strength by recognizing diverse perspectives and providing advancement opportunities for all. As chairperson of the committee, Leatherberry has fostered strategic relationships with organizations such as the National Black MBA Association, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, the League of Black Women and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
In addition to her advocacy of diversity in her firm, Leatherberry has been a consistent champion for the advancement of women of color in the consulting profession. As an advisory board member for the League of Black Women, Leatherberry leads efforts to support the annual Women of Color Conference for young women in the professional services industry. She has also volunteered her insights on diversity and professional development at conferences hosted by the Network, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley and the Harvard Business School, among others. As a member of The Executive Leadership Council’s Institute for Leadership Development and Research, Leatherberry helped facilitate Hurricane Katrina recovery at Xavier University, an historically Black college.
Leatherberry holds an MBA in Operations from Northeastern University and a BSME from Boston University.
Q. You’re moderating a panel on the business impact of diversity at this year’s Multicultural Workforce Conference [April 21-23, 2009 in Chicago]. Has the business case gotten through to everyone?
A. No, but that is not to say that progress is not being made. This is an evolution, and as such, many different experiences and events will shape and refine the business case. What is critical is to continue to recognize that it’s a journey that requires checkpoints along the way. Having authentic dialogue and constantly raising a level of consciousness are ways to not lose momentum.
Q. Some executives appreciate the need for diversity intellectually but lack real commitment. What can be done about the gap between the head and the heart?
A. That’s a tough one. It has to become more than “lip service”. Those organizations that can directly tie diversity to their business objectives are more apt to embed it into their culture. It either has to become personal or recognized as a business imperative. Sometimes that business imperative is driven by a negative event. Often what is required is winning over the hearts and minds of key individuals and once that is done an organization can reach a tipping point. The reality is that for some, it may never become either of the two.
Q. Has the consulting industry made a lot of progress on diversity?
A. It depends on your view. Consulting leadership across the firms still do not reflect the diversity that is often seen at the lower ranks. The good news is, consulting as a profession can see a direct benefit for the business case. Consulting, unlike many other professions, relies on the success of developing and nurturing intellectual capital. People are the value chain of the business (unlike products). Consulting is realizing that its talent must complement the clients that it serves. Those clients are becoming more and more diverse and are in many cases demanding to see diversity in talent from the firms that serve them.
Q. Do you see the consumer products and retail industry moving as fast as it could on diversity?
A. Consumer business and retailers are not unique in their struggle to recruit and nurture talent. There are many leaders in these industries that understand it and are setting the tone for the need to build a diverse organization. But make no mistake, there is a “war for talent” and most organizations are still trying to figure out how to win that war. Companies are investing heavily in recruiting, professional development and retention. However, when I have the opportunity to meet and share views on the challenges of winning the war for talent, I am amazed at how consistent the themes are from organization to organization.
Q. You are very active in advancing diversity, especially for young women of color. What particular challenges do they face early in their careers?
A. Consulting is still a relatively new professional frontier for diverse practitioners. I have observed that women of color certainly bring their “technical” capabilities to the table. However, they often struggle in obtaining the right coaching and mentoring that assists them in developing their overall political and business acumen.
Q. Isolation, lack of mentors and lack of role models consistently top the list of barriers for women in business. What programs best address these issues?
A. The best programs allow women to empower themselves and to learn the “soft skills” of business (influence, negotiation and conflict resolution are some examples). As stated earlier, addressing how to develop their business and political acumen greatly helps them to fit in and thrive in their organization.
Q. Tell us about your own experience as chair of Deloitte’s nationwide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Its efforts have gotten a lot of recognition.
A. It has been a great learning experience. It has allowed me to sharpen my own “soft skills”. I’ve been challenged to lead, take some risk, and influence my partners and firm leadership across all aspects of our business. Our success has been the ability to tie the business case to the value of developing and retaining the best and the brightest.
Q. You’ve reached out to groups like the National Black MBA Association and the Society of Hispanic MBAs. What benefits have you derived from these partnerships?
A. Collaboration in promoting diverse talent is why these partnerships are so beneficial. These organizations are invaluable in helping to make the case for diversity. They are the chief architects in designing and building the pipeline of talent that organizations such as Deloitte leverages. I couldn’t imagine how we would identify, recruit and nurture business talent without these organizations.
Q. Not to mention your association with NEW. Has Deloitte’s partnership with the Network been good for business?
A. The most successful business leaders demonstrate the ability to build great relationships. NEW is unique, there is no other professional association that is top of mind that provides an environment for female business leaders to connect. NEW fosters an environment where we can learn from one another, understand each other’s challenges and also collaborate on business opportunities.
Q. What advice would you give women starting out their careers in business today?
A. Understand your business and learn how to play the game. A young professional’s "technical" craft and raw brain power are table stakes. Learning and remaining versed in their industry, understanding the mega trends and environmental factors that will impact their industry or organization, the company’s business strategy/direction and learning the “unwritten rules” will serve women professionals in the long run.
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