• Sarah Hayward, Author |
  • Emily Brine, Author |
4 min read

The old proverb says, "it takes a village to raise a child." We couldn't agree more, but we'd go one step further: it takes a community to raise and sustain that child. That community can be large or small, and there can be any number of them. It all depends on the dimensions of our lives under consideration. In our shared case, our professional careers have been nurtured and sustained not just by our immediate families, loved ones and the literal communities in which we have worked and lived, but also by each other and the community of other professional women at KPMG.

Ambitious women. Openly ambitious, in fact. We know that women who self-identify in this way have often been penalized for it, that it's an attitude that has worked against them. Indeed, that's been the case for us once or twice, as well. But times are changing—too slowly, yes, but surely. A rising tide of organizations, initiatives and individuals supporting women in business and other avenues of leadership —such as the Canadian Women's Foundation, Catalyst, and Minerva BC, as well as the Women's Collective at the Globe and Mail—is gradually lifting all boats, and we couldn't be more excited for what the future holds.

Of course, the pandemic has brought challenges unique to working women, but there are also opportunities of promise in our emerging new reality. But we also know that not every woman who wants one has access to a village—to a support network necessary to grow and thrive. We own that much of our individual success is owed to hard-work and determination, but we also know that some of it was sheer luck—including the luck to have found each other, and at a firm that is in no way intimidated by ambitious women. We want that for women everywhere. Of course, we can't just snap our fingers and make it so. But we can—and do—offer to be there for those still trying to find their own village to help them reach their potential.

An auspicious occasion
We met at KPMG's Vancouver office several years ago. We didn't work directly together and so didn't share precisely the same goals or challenges. But we immediately connected, and our journey of mutual support began—over many years and countless conversations about the changing directions of our career paths, our children, what we did and did not think we wanted or were capable of, what we were and are.

One particular discussion with a small group of women about our careers stands out for both us. We were all moms. All openly ambitious. None of us considered ambitious a bad word, but nevertheless we were struggling with shared concerns: How do you make this work? How do you balance career ambition with family? What do you focus on? What don't you focus on? We were all at KPMG, and there we were, challenging and supporting each other. And the conclusion we reached was that it actually isn't easy. It isn't straightforward or cookie-cutter. There's no rulebook. But we could make our own rulebook by being there for each other—which we still are to this day.

This is the luck we mentioned: spontaneous and serendipitous moments with supportive women that were fostered in an equally supportive environment, working at KPMG. This isn't surprising: a recent study that KPMG International undertook on trust in the marketplace showed that business leaders increasingly expect firms like ours to promote and advance positive social change, including on gender diversity and representation. More specifically, a growing proportion of C-suite leaders and informed citizens believe that leading by example on matters of inclusion and diversity—including on specific issues like gender pay equity—demonstrates a genuine commitment to vibrant and healthy communities.

But the other part of our good fortune is that KPMG isn't committed to positive social impact simply because the market wants us to be. These values are already deeply embedded in our culture, and it's how we live our values every day. One of the reasons we have worked here for as long as we each have is that we feel like we belong. Diversity and inclusion at all levels—"Come as you are," as our current student recruitment campaign puts it—isn't just the talk. It's the walk. It's the run. We know that diverse teams lead to better results across the board. Why? Because diverse perspectives are a fast-track to new and better ideas. Because exposure to people from outside your immediate frame of reference widens that frame and sharpens its focus.

That's exactly what our experience over these many years has been.

And it's why we want to be part of this conversation—because, in some ways, it's the only conversation that matters. And that's further because it isn't just about women. It's about all of us. We want our daughters to reach for their limitless potential, and we want our sons not only to do the same but also to see their moms and sisters doing that, too—and achieving it. We know they can. And we know you can, too.

Because, in the end, that amazing, supportive, values-driven village?

It took a village to build it.