EngagementDiversity & InclusionCreating a fairer future for equal opportunities

Creating a fairer future for equal opportunities

Martin Blackburn, UK People Director, KPMG, discusses the upcoming 'Fairer Futures' campaign, and what opportunities this will bring to the world of work.

“Martin, I’ve got great news for you.”

It was this comment from a partner in a lift one morning in one of my prior organisations that raised my suspicions.

“I’ve got the perfect person for you.  Daughter of a friend of mine – quite a major client I should add – looking for some summer work experience.  If you could take her on it’s a win-win.  You get some support, I keep the client happy.  I can swing the budgets.  I’ve already said yes by the way.  We are laughing.”

And you know, I was.  This was a senior partner.  The daughter worked alongside me that summer, the next year joined the graduate scheme and last time I looked was making pretty good career progress.

This all happened some years ago but you know, no one thought anything was untoward.  What was wrong in giving someone work experience?  Did it matter that access to that work experience depended to some extent on who you knew?

Now, of course, things have moved on.  At KPMG we no longer talk purely about Diversity, or Inclusion & Diversity.  We’re focused on Inclusion, Diversity and Social Equality.  Neatly summarised as ‘Fairer Futures’.

Our Fairer Futures campaign aims to create an environment of equal access to opportunities, whilst recognising that society isn’t currently built to support this, and we need to do more to level the playing field.  We strongly believe that everyone should be able to go as far in life as their ability and personal ambitions take them.  However, if we’re honest, we recognise that traditionally someone’s success too often depended on their gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic background, so we are taking steps to change this.

I think the first question a firm needs to ask themselves when considering their approach to diversity is where does it sit in terms of the firm’s broader strategy?  Is it an inherent part of their talent strategy or something that feels ‘the right thing to do’?  And with that determined, there is a need to create a common language.  When it comes to diversity, my experience is that language often gets in the way.  Within KPMG, Fairer Futures has provided a language for us all to use, a jargon-free language which really gets to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve, a language to which everyone can relate and perhaps aspire.

So how do you create a landscape for a fairer future?  Well, firstly we know it starts at home.  What gets measured gets managed which is why we have set ourselves clear targets.  We recently published our new diversity targets through to 2022 which include our aim to have 25% female partners and 11% BAME partners.

We also need to hold ourselves accountable.  Over the years we have achieved great improvements which have been externally recognised.  We ranked first in the Social Mobility Employer Index and we won ‘Influential Business of the Year’ at the Business Disability Forum Disability Smart Awards, both of which I am hugely proud of.  But we know there is so much more to do.  We need to keep this momentum going if we are to bring real change and continue to place fairness at the centre of our business.  We must lead by example and work meaningfully with other firms and local communities to support that vision for a Fairer Future.

That’s why a big part of Fairer Futures is ensuring everyone within KPMG knows they have a role to play.  This isn’t some ‘HR-thing’.  We need everyone engaged with the campaign and given the opportunity to support – maybe through volunteering, joining an employee network or upskilling themselves, for example through our ‘Beliefs, Biases, Behaviours and Belonging’ training.

Further, given we have targets and given we’re a data-led organisation, we need employees to complete or review their diversity profile.  Not just so we can track progress but because we believe it sends a message about our openness with each other.  We want a culture where our people bring their entire selves to work.  Part of this is of course feeling able to share this data on our online systems, but a bigger part is sharing it with our teams and managers.  The concept of effective teams is fundamental to KPMG and being open within that team enhances that team’s performance.

But before you can ask people to do this you need to make sure you’re equipped for it.  We are asking for sensitive data and we need to make sure all employees are assured that what they declare will be protected.  As we all know, under GDPR, characteristics such as race and sexual orientation fall under special category data which require additional controls to ensure it’s protected.  But we also need to make it clear what we are going to do with it.  If we’re asking for this data we need to make sure we use it to make a positive difference.

So the challenge is on.

Before moving into HR I was an accountant.  I was the first in my family to go to University, studying Accountancy and Economics at the University of Kent.  The night before I was due to go, I was debating with my Mum whether it was really necessary.  Not many from my school had gone to Uni, my entire family continued to live and work in Ipswich.  I was having last minute jitters.  She suggested I call my uncle who was also an accountant and sought his view.  He said, honestly if I wanted the best career opportunities, I should indeed go.

If he hadn’t been an accountant?  If I hadn’t called him?  Well, who knows?  I probably wouldn’t be writing this article now.

I guess for me fairer futures means levelling the playing field, opening access to our firms, ensuring progression based on talent.  It means you don’t need to have an uncle who’s an accountant or a father who’s an important client.  It means your progression depends on the most important thing at the heart of the diversity equation.  You.

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