Larry Quinlan fell in love with technology after realizing that it could change everything.
Once slated to help run his father’s business on a small island, Quinlan saw how technology could solve some of the toughest problems faced by businesses. He became obsessed with its potential, turning down sales jobs after graduate school to hunt for his place in the tech industry. Quinlan now serves as the global CIO of Deloitte.
But can technology change itself? Quinlan, who is Black, said that the tech industry still hasn’t solved the problem of its own lack of diversity. Research shows little change in diversity in the tech industry over the past six years. Even so, Quinlan believes that the industry can improve if tech executives shift their mindset and remove the barriers faced by women and people of color.
Spencer Stuart spoke with Quinlan about his leadership style, the mindset shift he believes executives need to make to improve diversity, and how society can help young people from underrepresented communities become interested in STEM. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What experiences have most prepared you for your current role as CIO?
Larry Quinlan: I've run the gamut — I've done programming, security, applications and infrastructure. The role of CIO is a very special one. We get to change organizations in a very dramatic way.
Leadership has been key in preparing me for the role of CIO. All of the experiences I've had leading people, working with people, learning from people, I put those at the top of the list. I've found that people are essential to accomplishing anything. You have to truly care about people, to want to inspire them, to have the humility to learn from them. You have to believe that people are the answer.
Early in my career, I went down a different path. I believed all the press about me — you get to believe that you are the hottest thing on the planet. But a series of lessons really taught me that it’s the people on our team who are the most important, not me. They really help drive the outcomes — their engagement is a paramount importance. Yes, CIO has to set the direction. But even in the setting of direction, it’s truly important to build consensus and build agreement for sustainable change.
How would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style is built around ensuring that everyone's engaged. It's easy to pick a few people in your inner circle, the privileged few, and ignore everybody else. But what gives a better result is to engage the entire organization.
When you look at a high-performing IT organization, you realize something: The people are special. They're engaged, they're curious. They wake up every morning trying to figure out how to solve a problem, how to make a customer happy, how to deal with an external client. And to me, that is the magic sauce of a real IT organization. It isn't about who got to the cloud first, it isn't about who perfected agile. It's about whether or not the entire team believes in the mission and embraces the strategy. I believe that's what makes the team truly successful. And it requires leadership that recognizes that the team is more important than the leader.
How can businesses ensure that they have more diverse leadership in the future?
Ultimately, our goal at Deloitte is to drive towards broader representation. Through fostering an inclusive culture, we are striving for our people to be represented throughout our ranks, regardless of background or attribute. We want everyone to feel empowered to advance and succeed at Deloitte.
And Inclusion is absolutely foundational to our talent experience and who we are at Deloitte.
How will we achieve this? Through a three-pronged approach:
Connect. Reaching talent earlier and in more impactful ways by encouraging interest in our profession. We will continue to provide opportunities to developing and advancing groups that are traditionally underrepresented in technology. And we are intentional about the collaborations/sponsorships we form to ensure that we have the ability to connect with great talent.
Belong. Instilling inclusive leadership behaviors into our daily interactions and providing unique ways to form genuine relationships. We are placing emphasis on our Inclusion Councils and on broad, high-impact events, like our Inclusion and Women in Technology Summits, to bring professionals and leaders together to drive conversation and priorities.
Grow. Providing the support and opportunities to empower all our people to develop. Once they’re here, we provide the support system that enables our people to grow as leaders, from how we assign projects and stretch opportunities, to pairing our people with mentors and sponsors.
What can we, as a society, do to get young talent from underrepresented groups interested in STEM?
Educators should consider working with businesses in public-private partnerships to create an appealing curriculum that will prepare students for the jobs that are most in-demand. That’s important to us, because people tend to become what they've been exposed to.
Additionally, technology access should be equitable — a utility seen as important as electricity. When the pandemic hit, everyone moved to remote and virtual school. Well, when you're working with an underprivileged community, there are a number of things you don't see. There are a number of households that don't have internet access, that don't have Wi-Fi, that don't have a place to work.
Finally, we should communicate more about the opportunities available in technology. The introduction of STEM can’t just be a PowerPoint exercise. It should be a real exercise in providing opportunities to real people, who will be the next generation of technology leaders.
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