Leading By Example: EY’s CEO Mark Weinberger on Work and Family

At the recent White House Summit on Working Families, Ernst & Young’s CEO Mark Weinberger told an anecdote that, to me, represents our best hope that corporate leadership is finally recognizing the importance of work-family balance and will begin to sincerely address this issue.

EY's CEO Mark Weinberger (center) spoke about his personal work-family balance priorities at the White House Summit on Working Families
EY’s CEO Mark Weinberger (center) spoke about work-family balance at the White House Summit on Working Families

The White House Summit was a glitzy affair- The President, Vice President, the First Lady, Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Robin Roberts and other bigwigs all spoke about the importance of supporting working families.

However, for me, one of the standouts of the Summit was the understated CEO of EY, Mark Weinberger. He spoke during the first panel discussion (along with Economist Claudia Goldin, entrepreneur Makini Howell, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, and moderator Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic) about how supporting family is also good for business.

“It can’t just be an initiative, it has to be a culture”

Weinberger stated that EY was working hard to change their culture both because it is the right thing to do and it is the smart business move- like most major financial firms, EY has a turnover problem among mid-career working parents, is combatting an industry-wide culture of overwork, employs many millennials who are increasingly demanding flexibility, and is a business that depends upon the talent and dedication of its employees.

To change its culture, EY implemented a set of metrics around flexibility and family support (“in a large company, you get what you measure“) and they hold managers accountable for these results. He also described addressing work-family issues as a “…no brainer. We don’t need any more economic analysis to know its importance.” They are not there yet, but are making significant progress.

(as a personal aside, I know several high-up people at EY and I can tell you that they are sincerely dedicated to addressing work-family concerns and changing a deeply rooted “all-in” work culture to one that is more respectful of employees’ lives and more sustainable in the long-term. You can read anonymous employee testimonials here)

A promise kept

It was wonderful to hear a prominent CEO speak so passionately on this issue (and he was not alone- the CEOs of PriceWaterhouseCooper, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, Shake Shack and Goldman Sachs, among others, spoke similarly about their dedication to this issue and how it was a business no-brainer for them). But what really stood out to me was a short anecdote Weinberger told that illustrated that he was walking the walk.

Before Weinberger became CEO, he discussed the opportunity with his wife and four children. His family agreed that he could take the job only if he remained a highly-involved dad.

Shortly after becoming CEO, he was in China giving his first big speech to the EY employees there, plus many business partners and government officials. He was nervous about the speech and wanted it to be memorable. There was to be a big dinner reception afterwards.

Weinberger gave his speech, but ended it with an apology- he would have to skip the reception to get right on a plane back home so he could take his daughter to her driver’s test. He had promised a year ago that he’d be there, and needed to keep his commitment to his family.

Everyone remembered that. No one remembered my speech.

Although he was just trying to be a good dad, it turned out that his flight back to his daughter’s driving test became a story repeated many times throughout EY. The lesson, I think (and hope), is that, “if the CEO acts on his priorities like this, then so can I.”

Such visible signs of leadership from the CEO of a leading financial firm gives me hope that corporate leadership is finally recognizing the importance of work-family balance, not just in theory, but in practice.

What do you think of Weinberger’s anecdote? Have any similar positive or negative examples to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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