KPMG's diversity head shares the exact action plan the firm rolled out to make sure its commitment to equality is more than just lip service

  • KPMG is a professional-services firm with more than 219,000 employees worldwide.
  • On Juneteenth, the company announced a task force dedicated to increasing diverse representation and equity at work.
  • Business Insider spoke with Michele Meyer-Shipp, chief diversity and inclusion officer at KPMG, on the exact action plans that the company has developed in recent weeks since the killing of George Floyd. 
  • Apart from creating a task force or a team of leaders for diversity plans, Meyer-Shipp shared that KPMG is also developing sub-councils of employees at every position level to hold leaders and managers accountable. 
  • Business Insider is launching a newsletter on gender identity and career success. Sign up here to receive Gender at Work in your inbox.
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On June 19, KPMG CEO Paul Knopp sent a letter to employees addressing how the company plans to increase diverse representation and build an equitably fair workplace.

The day he picked for the announcement was one full of symbolism: It's Juneteenth, a holiday meant to recognize the end of slavery in the US.

KPMG, a professional-services firm with more than 219,000 employees worldwide, has won several diversity awards. The firm was among the top 10 most diverse companies ranked by DiversityInc in 2019, and it's also been recognized as a leading employer in mentorship, sponsorship for women leaders, and employee resource groups. As of 2020, 63% of promotions at KPMG go toward underrepresented groups, while 41% of the firm's board of directors are from underrepresented groups, a company spokesman told Business Insider. 

"We've changed a lot, but we haven't changed nearly enough," Knopp wrote in the memo. "I've heard that message loud and clear from many of you who, over the last several weeks, graciously have shared your stories through emails, phone calls, and virtual meetings. For too long, we haven't changed enough."

Since the killing of George Floyd and the protests that spotlighted police brutality and systemic racism against Black Americans, many companies have taken a firm stance against racism and shared incentives to create more equality at work.

Professional-services firm Ernst & Young (EY), for example, is contributing $4 million to historically Black colleges. HP CEO Enrique Lores announced that the tech company is ramping up diversity hiring.

Nevertheless, company leaders need to pull on several levers at once in order to dismantle systemic racism in the office. Diversity and inclusion efforts shouldn't be falling on the shoulders a single person (more often than not, it's an executive hired specifically to address diversity issues). It also takes more than a one-off training to implement substantial change.

"We know that these aren't comfortable conversations, but we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because we need to talk about it," said Michele Meyer-Shipp, chief diversity and inclusion officer at KPMG. "Companies need those extra layers of accountability, and we can do so if more people and groups are involved."

In an interview with Business Insider, Meyer-Shipp outlined the exact action plans the firm is taking to combat inequality.

Building a task force, sub-councils, and advisory boards to hold people accountable

Combating racial inequality isn't one person's job. 

KPMG pulled together a council of professionals across the firm to weigh in on all plans related to building diversity and inclusion, Meyer-Shipp said. This task force is made up of 11 leaders, including Darren Burton, vice chair of human resources, Claudia Saran, vice chair of culture, Carl Carande, vice chair of advisory, and Tandra Jackson, vice chair of growth and strategy.

"I wouldn't say that we've come up with a magic bullet, but one of the things that we want to do differently with this council is have a governing body outside of HR, and have a cross-functional, diverse group of professionals that holds us to the fire," Meyer-Shipp said.

While the firm's internal council decides where and how to target the company's dollars to accelerate diversity plans, KPMG's business employee resource group vetted and assessed nonprofit organizations before distributing $500,000 of donations to support community efforts.

Meyer-Shipp shared that the company is also looking to set up sub-councils made up of employees from every level of the company.

"It's going to set us up to become more transparent, and these groups will also hold us more accountable for driving outcomes," she said. 

Providing mental health resources for employees

Now more than before, KPMG is checking in on its workforce.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has forced employees to work remotely, Meyer-Shipp shared with Business Insider that she's had more one-on-one meetings and felt closer to her colleagues than she did prior to the crisis.

"We're not just having work meetings, but we're also checking in with each other," she said.

The firm is regularly conducting a company-wide survey to measure employee experience and engagement. The company's leaders and managers are hosting office hours and virtual check-ins with staff members, the chief diversity and inclusion officer added.

In response to the killing of Floyd and the protests, the firm's Black employee resource group is having weekly check-in meetings with up to 800 staff members. Moreover, anyone can attend facilitated mental health group sessions with a licensed counselor each week, Meyer-Shipp said. 

"We are off to the races with driving open dialogue about race inside our organization," she said.

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