In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Traci Gusher to learn what it’s like to be a woman in technology consulting, any challenges she’s overcome and what we can do as a society to ensure more women explore and pursue STEM careers.
As one of the judges at the upcoming KPMG Ideation Challenge, a hackathon-style competition for some of the brightest business and STEM students globally, we discussed everything from mentorship and coaching to what we’ll be looking for in choosing the most innovative, technically achievable idea.
KPMG IWD Editors: What is your current role at KPMG and what was your path to get there?
Traci: I’m currently the head of artificial intelligence, analytics and engineering for KPMG in the US. I’m responsible for two teams – one in Advisory focused on driving AI solutions into the work that we do for our clients and the other focused on developing new platforms, solutions and services to help advance what we can bring to market as part of our I&ES Digital Lighthouse COE. Across both teams, our ultimate mission is to uncover what’s next, what’s emerging and how can we use it to advance our clients and our own organization.
I’ve been with KPMG for almost 19 years. When I started, I wasn’t even in a technology role. I was in a strategy and business operations position. Over time, I found myself spending more and more time on technology-related projects because that’s where a real focus was at the time. I enjoyed the work because it challenged me and allowed me to bring a completely different perspective and voice to technology-focused discussions.
One of the great things about KPMG is that you can have 1, 5 or even 10 different careers within one organization. You can change paths, try new things and learn along the way.
KPMG IWD Editors: It’s no secret that women in technology are a minority and that it’s still a male-dominated area. What kind of challenges have you personally faced and how have you overcome them?
Traci: One of the biggest challenges has been that I’m working in a highly technical field and I don’t have a deep technical degree. It’s not infrequent that I come across areas where I don’t have in-depth knowledge – but that’s ok and I have come to embrace the feeling of not having all the answers and enjoying learning from the amazing people on my team every day. Since joining the firm, my mentors have instilled in me the motto of “being a student of the firm” – and I can honestly say that I have never stopped learning. There’s so much to learn within the walls of KPMG – so many smart people to tap into for information – it really is a continuous learning environment. The flip side is that I bring a different voice to the table, and the people I work with see real value in that. It means I can bring different perspectives and insights to the discussion and I feel that as a result I can help get us to a more innovative or well-rounded outcome. I love the feeling that leaves me with – that I have made a difference and helped us become better.
KPMG IWD Editors: Switching gears quickly to the upcoming KPMG Ideation Challenge (KIC). This is your first year serving on the panel of judges for KIC, where you’ll be working with diverse student teams from countries around the world. What will you be looking for in the students’ solutions? What will help teams stand out from their competition?
Traci: Global applicability is at the top of the list. We’re looking at solutions that have global relevance and impact.
The second thing I’ll be looking for is technical feasibility. During the individual country finals, we saw a lot of fantastic ideas, but some teams couldn’t show us how their ideas would actually work. Teams who provide a visual demonstration, architectures or working prototypes to support their ideas – particularly by utilizing their engineering talent, will score more points in my book.
KPMG IWD Editors: What tips do you have for the women on these teams who want to enter the technology consulting sector?
Traci: My first tip would be to not let your education stop at your degree. Generally speaking, right out of college, about 90 percent of your skill set is probably the same as the person applying to the same position as you. So, you have to think about what will differentiate you, and self-education is key. You can do that through free online training, reading and activities such as KIC or getting involved in women-centric organizations like Girls Who Code.
My second tip would be to seek out multiple mentors. It’s important to have diversity, so you can turn to different people for different challenges and questions. Also, be a mentor. It’s important to help grow the next generation of female developers and technologists. And it’s never too early to start. Mentoring is a great way to advance your own skills and give back at the same time.
KPMG IWD Editors: Last question. What do you think are the top qualities of a female leader in technology and tech consulting?
Traci: Confidence. All too often I meet women who are brilliant in their field, but they lack the confidence to show their talent. The other quality is humbleness. In my experience, some leaders in technical fields don’t like to admit when they’re wrong or don’t have the answer. There’s strength in seeking out answers from others and asking for outside perspectives and opinions. Your idea is not always the best, and it’s OK to admit that. No matter how close you are to the top, there’s always room to learn from others.
More about Traci Gusher:
Traci is a leader in KPMG’s Digital Lighthouse where she is responsible for the AI, Analytics and Engineering team in the US and for KPMG Ignite (KPMG’s Global AI platform). She is an experienced executive with significant expertise leading programs focused on artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, and big data technologies. Traci has responsibility for leading a team of data scientists and engineers focused on building innovative platforms and solutions to support KPMG’s broad services portfolio, as well as, supporting our clients on their digital transformation journeys to realize tangible outcomes.