Paradigm for Parity® CEO Spotlight Series: Carl Hess
The Paradigm for Parity® coalition CEO Spotlight Series showcases member company CEOs who are transforming their corporate culture to advance women of all races, cultures and backgrounds.
For International Women’s Day, we are pleased to feature Carl Hess, CEO of WTW, who shared an international perspective on closing the corporate gender gap. He noted that WTW “operates in over 140 countries and markets with clients ranging from individual consumers to the largest multinationals. Our talent needs to reflect this diversity, and that starts at the top.”
As he discussed WTW’s partnership with the Paradigm for Parity® coalition, Hess also highlighted that he has “seen more women leaders named in previously male-dominated areas of the business — a reflection of the conscious decision to break biases and do better. We’re not yet where we need to be and it’s important to be honest about that, but we’re on a good, and intentional, path.”
- What motivated your company to join the Paradigm for Parity® coalition?
At WTW, we believe that diversity makes us stronger. We want the makeup of our workforce to reflect the different and varied communities in which we work and live, and a culture of inclusivity where all our colleagues can bring their best selves to work every day, feeling welcomed and valued.
Committing to gender parity isn’t just a nice to do — it’s critical so our business can grow and succeed. Since joining Paradigm for Parity® over five years ago, we’ve built a more inclusive workplace culture. We recently reached the Paradigm for Parity® near-term goal of 30% gender diversity in our senior leadership — but we have a lot more work ahead of us. Using Paradigm for Parity’s® 5-Point Action Plan has been a key differentiator. We’ve incorporated aspects of the plan throughout our talent strategy and objectives, and we continue to embed inclusion and diversity principles into everything we do.
2. What role can/should CEOs play in leveling the playing field for marginalized groups, including women and people of color, in the workforce?
As leaders, if we say we’re committed to gender parity and improving the racial diversity in our company, we need to prove it with our actions. Our actions will set the tone for the environment and culture to enable progress in this area.
For me, it’s about using my position to be a role model and demonstrate change through my own actions. Who better to be the first to normalize a change in behaviors and mindsets than the CEO?
It was critically important to me that we strove for overall diversity when we built the new leadership team at WTW. This action then cascaded through the organization. I’ve seen more women leaders named in previously male-dominated areas of the business — a reflection of the conscious decision to break biases and do better. We’re not yet where we need to be and it’s important to be honest about that, but we’re on a good, and intentional, path.
We operate in over 140 countries and markets with clients ranging from individual consumers to the largest multinationals. Our talent needs to reflect this diversity, and that starts at the top.
3. What do you consider to be the benefits of leveling the playing field for women in the workforce for your company and society as a whole?
The benefits for all are solid and well documented. There’s plentiful research on this, and the numbers and facts speak for themselves — diverse teams make better decisions, are more innovative and are better at solving problems.
The stories we hear are also as impactful as the research. It’s when we see a diverse team secure a client win or hear feedback from colleagues on how our culture has made them feel like they belong at WTW — those are the real benefits to us as a company.
It’s disappointing that we’re still asking ourselves questions about the benefits of leveling the playing field. Women represent roughly 50% of society. If we exclude women, we’re only getting half the innovative ideas and solutions we could be getting. Think of what we could be achieving as a company and a society!
4. How is your company advocating for, lifting up and supporting women of color in your workplace?
We have policies and actions for a more inclusive recruitment process and added scrutiny around our promotions process, and we’ve seen these pay dividends. We’ve also paid attention to the potential barriers that affect underrepresented talent in a corporate environment and designed programs to help navigate these barriers
Our senior leadership team has collective goals on gender diversity. This year we included one on racial diversity in the U.S., which is where we have enough data on race to measure where we are. We’ve also introduced a goal for all our managers to increase accountability for management practices that are fundamental to building a positive colleague experience. We’re not “there” yet and have more to do to ensure we’re hearing from diverse colleagues across our company and at all levels.
We also have a number of company-supported Inclusion Networks (employee resource groups) including groups focused on gender equity and cultural diversity. Partnering with them has helped us launch meaningful policies and programs that directly impact the development and wellbeing of our colleagues.
5. When you look at the Paradigm for Parity® coalition 5-Point Action Plan, is there one step that you think is most critical to ensuring that women of color have the same opportunities for advancement as their colleagues?
I see the action plan as an important roadmap for us. All five points are important, and we’ve used the guidance and best practice shared between the coalition members to expand the way we look at workforce demographic metrics and how we use them to hold ourselves accountable.
That said, I believe minimizing or eliminating unconscious bias is a critical enabler to the other four actions. We need to be aware of how our biases affect the decisions we make and how they impact our company in achieving gender parity — and take remedial steps accordingly.
6. Today is International Women’s Day. UN Women’s theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” How does gender parity align and amplify WTW’s other goals, such as sustainability?
WTW is in the business of people, risk and capital. Our vision is to be the best company we can be, for the benefit of all our stakeholders. Inclusion and diversity have a direct impact on our ability to grow and succeed. Our gender parity goal helps us build a diverse workforce that leverages our best thinking and efforts. These will be the key to achieving our purpose, “We transform tomorrows” and sustaining our competitive advantage, today and in the future.
Carl Hess is the CEO at Willis Towers Watson. During his more than thirty years with the company, Carl has had a variety of roles, including head of the Investment, Risk and Reinsurance segment, leader of the North American and Americas geographies, global head of the Investments business, and a consultant in the Retirement business.
Carl is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and the Conference of Consulting Actuaries and a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst. He is a graduate of Yale University, receiving his B.A. in logic. Carl and his wife, Carol, live near their three adult children in New York City.
About Paradigm for Parity®
Paradigm for Parity® is a coalition of business leaders dedicated to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap. The coalition is made up of CEOs, senior executives, founders, board members, and business academics who are committed to achieving a new norm in the corporate world: one in which women and men have equal power, status, and opportunity. The ultimate goal is to achieve full gender parity by 2030, with a near-term goal of women holding at least 30% of senior roles.