On July 10th I had the pleasure of hosting an event called “Shake it Up” with keynote speaker Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair at KPMG. The theme was to discuss why Boardrooms are still not as diverse as they should be. A summary of the event follows:
Melanie Richards’, Deputy Chair at KPMG, opening remark caught the room’s attention: “I didn’t notice I was a woman for the first 20 years of my career.” In the context of working in an investment bank, this was quite a statement but explained by the fact that she never felt excluded and had some excellent support from (male) mentors who supported her professional development. On joining KPMG in a senior role, she started to notice the things that were holding women back and realised that having reached a relatively senior position, she had and has a responsibility not just to notice but to be a cheerleader and while she has always hated the term role model – recognised that we must not only stand up and be counted but work to effect change not only for women but to ensure that all people are respected, valued and given an opportunity to realise their potential. A grand ambition but Melanie thinks it is important to have big ambitions on how we effect change.
Minority groups of any description are still very under-represented in the upper strata of organisations. Melanie challenged the leaders in the room about why they were leaving the issue of diverse representation to chance when they wouldn’t leave any other business metric to take care of itself.
A conversation about targets ensued. While quotas in boardroom being used across Europe, the voluntary business led approach in the UK is working. Being transparent and accountable when it comes to progress on diversity, is increasingly seen as a positive thing by those leading our biggest and most high-profile businesses. Of course, there is much to be done. But the full dataset gives us a complete picture of the progress that has been made and where there is more work to do. Having greater visibility of the data provides an opportunity to shine a light on progressive organisations and encourage others to achieve better results. Interestingly, harnessing vocal support from senior executives is not normally difficult, the challenge sits in the ‘frozen middle’.
Of course, hitting a target in a numerical sense is only one part of the journey, the more intrinsic change needs to happen at a cultural level. Until individuals understand their unconscious bias and actively work against it, sustainable change is challenged. You can’t tell people what to feel, do or think but you can provide them with experiences which enable them to see through a different lens. The ‘Privilege Race’ video which has gone viral on social media channels demonstrates how stark difference can be. The visceral impact of seeing difference goes a long way. What would happen if organisations could run a similar ‘race’ with their people? Physically seeing a problem which people intellectually understand but don’t necessarily experience could reap huge dividends.
When we consider the global economy, there are examples of other countries making enormous strides in gender equality in particular. In the UK, we often look to Scandinavia, especially around their parenting model, but we can also look to China and India for women well-represented in STEM disciplines. The fundamental difference is that these countries have entrenched social and education policies which neutralise the gender roles. The Anglo-Saxon world is behind and policy makers as well as business leaders have a role to play.
It is not always the big things we do but the cumulative impact we can have by intervening and supporting at an individual level.
Melanie and the Diversity & Inclusion team are flying the flag within KPMG and beyond. It will take this kind of overt, vocal and sustained effort to make a systemic difference. The more leaders and policy makers who join this effort, the more rhetoric will move to positive action. Complacency, passive tokenism or abdicating responsibility to an HR team are no longer acceptable in today’s world. As a business leader or manager, we should all make a personal pledge to take at least one proactive step towards change. It’s time to take responsibility to ‘Shake It Up’.
Written by Sanjay Gohil, Partner.
Melanie joined KPMG in 2000 to develop the Debt Advisory practice and has more than 30 years of banking experience in bank lending, debt restructuring and capital markets’ instruments.
Melanie was appointed to the KPMG UK Board in 2012 and became Vice Chair in October 2014. Following a leadership transition in 2017, Melanie assumed the role of Deputy Chair and now works with the Chairman and Board in setting KPMG’s strategic direction and determining major policy positions.
Sanjay joined WBMS in June 2016 after 16 years’ experience of working in the Interim Management market. Focussing on the Business Services and Private Equity markets, he specialises in supporting Business Transformation, Turnaround, Finance, Strategy and Board level roles.
He has worked with a vast client base assisting FTSE100, FTSE250, SME’s and Public Sector organisations with their interim and consultancy resource. In 2018 Sanjay was voted one of the IIM’s Leading Provider Consultants.