When I am not travelling elsewhere in the globe, I work out of our Canary Wharf office in London, where our UK member firm is currently celebrating 150 years. It has been a pleasure seeing the stories coming out of the firm’s rich history, including the profound contributions of women in that time.
In just a few days, we will celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. International Women’s Day, happening on 8 March, gives us all a tremendous reason to turn our attention to women ― to celebrate successes and stories, whilst also recognizing the work that still needs to be done. For me, it’s an important time to reflect on those who have helped pave the way for me and others like me, and to hold myself accountable for doing the same in my career.
For example, one person I have thought of a lot recently is Ethel Watts. She was a pioneer in every aspect of her life, entering University in 1913, at a time when the pursuit of post-secondary education was still relatively rare for women. She would go on to become the first woman to qualify as an accountant by examination to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in 1924, after initially being declined the opportunity to take the accountancy qualifications because she was a woman. She fought hard for this, and her bravery would lay the ground for the thousands of woman that would go on to build careers in accountancy.
I think the important fact to note in Ethel’s story is not only her own courage and ability to lead by example, but also the crucial advocacy of those who supported her in her pursuit. One of our founders, Peat Marwick, supported her quest to gain formal qualifications from the ICAEW and fought alongside Ethel for that right, despite fierce opposition. They were successful, and as Ethel grew in her career, she in turn continued her fight in order to open this and other doors for other women too.
As the Global Head of Tax & Legal for KPMG International, I have had the pleasure of seeing many women in the organization grow and succeed in positions at the top level, and I have endeavored to be an advocate and champion. But as much as I strive to embed gender diversity and inclusion in everything I do, I acknowledge that it is not enough to hope that this will simply trickle down throughout the organization through conscious thought. If we aren’t actively setting measures and working to entrench inclusion and diversity into everything we do, we will not be able to make the necessary strides towards a more balanced and powerful workforce.
The numbers have repeatedly shown that. As one example, when I became partner at KPMG in the UK, the percentage of woman in partnership roles was below 20%. For the majority of my career, that number would grow very slowly, much more slowly than anyone wanted them to. Then, a few years ago, we put metrics in place to ensure we were putting forward truly diverse sets of candidates for consideration for partner-level roles. We have seen exponential improvement since putting the formal measures in place, which would not have been possible without those metrics by which to hold ourselves accountable.
I truly believe diversity is an outcome of inclusivity.
Of course, I’m focusing on women in this blog post today because it’s International Women’s Day, but this applies more broadly to all aspects of diversity. It’s a complex world with complex challenges to solve and we need all kinds of people to do so. True diversity needs all genders, all races, all physical abilities, all educational backgrounds, all viewpoints and more. We can achieve diversity in our workforce if we make it an inclusive place to be. We’re not going to solve it overnight, and as organizations, we need to be focused and set measures that really encourage conscious thought about unconscious bias. Ultimately, this will not only make for a more diverse and inclusive workplace, but will result in better business outcomes too.
Happy International Women’s Day! Who are the women that have inspired you in your career and life?
To hear more about my perspectives on Inclusion and Diversity, watch a recent video.