Changing the diversity profile of leadership
  • Noeleen Cowley, Partner |
4 min read

Changing the diversity profile of leadership in the firm has been my focus since reaching a position of leadership. Companies have been grappling with how to achieve greater gender parity. Partnership in the firm was an aspiration amongst women that declined the more senior they became. Women did not feel they had a clear career path ahead of them. And although those who were able to fast-track their careers, benefited from working with a Partner who was giving them access to the right projects, sponsoring them in the right meetings and supporting them to network through the firm, this support was not consistently available to all.

I’m a hands-on person -always willing to get down in the trenches to make things happen. Throughout my career this drive and commitment has been something my teams and clients have recognised and appreciated. I also think big. For me, the goal is to truly change the perception of what a typical ‘big 4’ partner looks like. I’m ambitious to be the leader within KPMG who will help revolutionise the firm – so together we can evolve our business and our community to respond to changing client needs. 

My focus on making a change in the firm

In 2016 I became the first female partner in the Banking Operations team in KPMG as well as being one of the youngest partners in the firm. This was a big moment for me – firstly, I’d reached the goal I’d been working towards for years, but secondly and more importantly, it was time for a re-set. Having reached a position of leadership, my primary focus became how to bring others up with me and change the diversity profile of leadership in the firm. I’ve been so proud over the last four years to have moved the dial on this one, hiring many amazing women into the partnership. But there is so much more to do. I am only just getting started!

Surrounding myself with the right people has been key to my success

I have always thought that my biggest strength is knowing my own weaknesses. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this self-awareness has helped me build successful teams throughout my career. It’s so important to find top talent and varied skill sets and to surround yourself with amazing people. I know I’ve built a good team when I think everyone else is smarter than me!

When you’re looking for allies and team members you also have to be really open minded. When I took on my role as head of Risk Driven Transformation I felt like a fish out of water. I wasn’t a risk consultant and yet I found myself leading our biggest risk practice. This was a huge challenge and I couldn’t have done it without the support of colleagues and friends. People I never would have expected to connect with became some of my biggest allies and supported my success.

Raising the Diversity Bar in my firm

At KPMG, I am consciously trying to lead a mentoring cultural paradigm shift. When we help each other to learn and grow, we create an amazing atmosphere to work in. I’ve always been a passionate mentor – all my mentees know that I expect them to cascade the support and mentor others. I want to work in a fun and vibrant community and the only way to achieve this is to have true diversity. Diversity of background, ethnicity, thought – the list goes on. To succeed in business, we need to be bouncing new ideas and perspectives around our team – you don’t get that if everyone looks, acts and thinks the same. That is why I am so proud to have founded, and now be sponsoring, the Raise You initiative. 

My top tips to women coming up through the ranks of consulting

Ask for help! No one is expected to be successful on their own. Figure out what your problems are and reach out for coaching and mentoring to overcome them. Work to equip yourself to face challenges head on. There’s no such thing as ‘can’t’ but I do believe in ‘can’t yet’. Don’t be hard on yourself when you fail – and we all fail sometimes. Just treat it as an opportunity to grow.

And make sure you have time away from work. It’s so important to figure out what helps you de-stress. Exercise has always been what I have used to relax. So it was really tough when I broke my shoulder last year and couldn’t head to the gym like I used to. At first, I just threw myself even more into my work – but this was not healthy. I had to figure out new ways to decompress – for me this was going for walks and listening to podcasts. Figure out what that relax activity is for you and prioritise it!

To find out more on our new Raise You programme and how you can drive gender diversity in the workplace, read our latest report: RaiseYou: A case study in enhancing gender diversity in FS Consulting at KPMG