Diversity As a Strategic Imperative

How one accounting firm fit the bill and grew their minority workforce.

June 18, 2009
by Catalyst

The Catalyst Award annually honors innovative organizational approaches with proven, measurable results that address the recruitment, development and advancement of all women, including women of color, through a rigorous, year-long examination of initiatives and their measurable results. Since 1987, Catalyst Award-winning initiatives have evolved from discrete programs to recruit, retain and advance women to culture-changing organizational efforts that recognize the business imperative for diversity and inclusion. Catalyst has honored 70 initiatives at 66 organizations with the Catalyst Award. In 2009, KPMG LLP’s initiative, Great Place to Build a Career, was one of four initiatives to receive the Catalyst Award.

Diversity and Inclusion As a Strategic Imperative

In the early 2000s, accounting firms began facing an increasingly competitive labor market fueled by a shortage of accounting graduates and competition from a new breed of employers such as technology startups, increased work volume resulting from a demanding and continually shifting regulatory landscape and women and minorities pursuing accounting and CPA degrees at an increasing rate. To maintain a competitive advantage, KPMG used diversity and inclusion as a strategic imperative to build an inclusive work environment that partners and employees, including women and minorities, consider a great place to work. KPMG LLP’s Great Place to Build a Career initiative is a comprehensive set of programs, resources and benefits that has transformed the firm into an inclusive employer of choice.

History and Launch of the Initiative

KPMG’s strategic focus on diversity and inclusion began in 2002, when senior leaders noticed high turnover and low employee morale among staff. In addition, only about one-half of KPMG’s women were satisfied. Women were underrepresented in senior ranks and leaving the firm at a much higher rate than their male colleagues. The business rationale for change was clear: with women making up more than one-half of accounting graduates and one-half of KPMG’s new hires, KPMG needed to attract and retain these qualified candidates to remain competitive with other firms. As a result, the firm designed a people-focused strategy to reduce turnover and improve employee morale that ultimately evolved into KPMG’s Great Place to Build a Career initiative.

In 2003, KPMG created the Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) comprising of women and men partners to develop firm-wide initiatives to improve the retention and advancement of women. The WAB shapes strategy and recommendations for action, oversees implementation and advises senior leaders on how best to support women at the firm. In 2007, firm executives, led by Chairman Timothy P. Flynn and CEO & Deputy Chairman John Veihmeyer, realized that the issues women employees face are similar to those faced by other underrepresented groups. Thus, it created the Diversity Advisory Board (DAB), which is modeled after the WAB. The DAB also launched five national Diversity Networks to provide forums for partners and employees to connect with peers, meet mentors and share career experiences and insights. Reporting directly to the Chairman’s office, the WAB and DAB provide a unified framework for diversity initiatives.

Great Place to Build a Career offers programs and tools for employees at every career stage, with elements specifically focused on the recruitment, retention and advancement of women and minorities. The initiative consists of, among other efforts, a robust recruiting strategy, a mentoring culture supported by a formal program with 6,000 mentors and nearly 10,000 mentees, enhanced person-to-person career guidance and transparency about career paths through an interactive set of online resources and tools.

KPMG’s Strategy

KPMG’s business strategy is based on four priorities: Professionalism and Integrity, Employer of Choice, Quality Growth and Global Strength and Consistency. Great Place to Build a Career helped the firm reach its strategic objective of becoming an Employer of Choice and continues to be a critical part of the firm’s long-term success. Attracting, retaining and developing a robust talent pool to deliver high-quality service and innovative ideas to clients enhances KPMG’s reputation and leads to business growth. In turn, business growth enables KPMG to provide employees with more opportunities to build and develop the skills and experiences needed to advance.

Catalyst Award Criteria: Change Drivers

KPMG’s initiative exceeds the following criteria, by which Catalyst evaluates efforts to develop and advance women in business.

  1. Integrate the Initiative With the Business Strategy. Great Place to Build a Career is closely aligned with one of KPMG’s four strategic business priorities — Employer of Choice — and is critical to business success. As a professional services firm, KPMG’s main asset is its people. Transforming the firm into an inclusive employer of choice where diverse talent will stay, thrive and advance is a major competitive advantage.
  2. Demonstrate the Commitment of Senior-Level Leadership. KPMG’s commitment to diversity and inclusion starts at the very top with Chairman Timothy Flynn, CEO & Deputy Chairman John Veihmeyer and other senior leaders who demonstrate their commitment through direct involvement in planning and managing diversity and inclusion strategies.

    In addition, many women and men partners champion diversity and inclusion as a business imperative through participation in the WAB, DAB and diversity network activities.
  3. Effectively Communicate the Strategy. In conjunction with the firm’s internal communications team, KPMG leadership and Human Resources representatives cascade messages to partners and employees about the diversity strategy, business rationale and progress of the initiative through town hall meetings, videos, intranet and employee magazines. Frequent and consistent communication of the initiative keeps partners and employees aware of, involved with and supportive of KPMG’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
  4. Create Accountability Systems. All partners and employees have Employer of Choice goals that reflect their involvement in the initiative. Partners and senior leaders are expected to create diversity action plans to track recruitment, retention and advancement of women and minorities. Diversity goals and performance are linked to compensation and bonuses for all partners and employees. Firm leadership also established a formal succession-planning process to increase the number of women and diverse candidates on annual partner/managing directors candidate lists and combat unconscious biases that may affect talent decisions.
  5. Create Tools to Measure Progress. KPMG has various tools and mechanisms in place to monitor the initiative’s progress and success, including the Human Capital Report, which details human capital metrics such as headcount, representation, turnover, mentoring, employee survey scores, recruiting results and career mobility; and Dialogue, a performance management system where partner and employee career goals, competencies and formal mentoring relationships are housed.

The Impact of the Initiative

Great Place to Build a Career has demonstrated strong results for women. By the end of 2008, women comprised 18.6 percent of partners, up from 12.9 percent in 2003. Also, women of color represented 10.2 percent of managing directors, directors, senior managers and managers in 2008, up from 5.7 percent in 2003. Turnover among both women and men has decreased over the course of the initiative, dropping 36.3 percent for women and 24.5 percent for men between 2003 and 2008.

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Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. Visit Research & Knowledge to download free copies of this and other Catalyst reports. While there, visit the Catalyst E-News sign-up page found under Newsroom to begin receiving our monthly e-mail updates. For more information or to learn how to apply for the Catalyst Award.