I’ll start with a disclosure. I have really mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. On the one hand I’m excited by the focus on a subject that matters enormously, on both a personal and a professional level. That excitement is amplified by the inspiring stories IWD brings in to the spotlight and the reminder it offers about the commitment to making progress on gender parity. But on the other hand I confess to feeling frustrated, by the pace of progress and that in the twenty first century we still need to pick a day to get the world to focus on something as fundamental as gender equality that should, by now, be a given.
By nature I am optimistic and pragmatic and this matches closely with the KPMG view on this critical issue. Our commitment to inclusion goes back a long way.
The first woman to qualify as a Chartered Accountant by examination in the UK was Ethel Watts, who was articled to Sir Harry Peat – the son of our founder Sir William Peat, and the source of the ‘P’ in our name. Peat spoke to the rights of women to qualify and work as a professional in the early part of the nineteenth century in an era when most professions were reluctant to admit women. As a result Ethel went on to have a hugely successful career, and made significant contributions to improving the UK tax code, including making it fairer for working women, as well as to the accountancy profession.
Ethel’s career ended in the mid-1960s and over the course of her life she saw some tremendous progress. But from what I’ve gleaned of her character she would have been less than impressed by the pace of progress in the sixty years since she stopped working. So in my role I sometimes find myself asking ‘what would Ethel think?’ and find the answer is generally that we should be going further and faster, scaling our ambitions and refusing to accept the obstacles that stand in our way. I think Ethel would say to me “Keep going, be persistent, stay the course and focus on the impact of your work and the facts”.
So in line with the IWD 2017 theme, this year at KPMG we are celebrating International Women’s Day with an internal campaign called, ‘Be bold, be extraordinary’. This celebrates the firm’s rich history of bold and extraordinary people: from the firm’s founding leaders and the people they have inspired, to colleagues who today are influencing and advocating for change and action. We are collecting other firsts around the world.
Here are some of our Australian women firsts:
- Elizabeth Shaw – First KPMG person to be appointed President of UN Women Australia
- Sabina Shugg – a KPMG director in Perth, was the first woman in the state to gain the WA First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate of Competency, and the first to work as an underground Mine Manager in WA.
- Alison Kitchen – KPMG’s first female Board member in 2003
- Shelley Reys – First Indigenous partner to the KPMG Australian partnership
- Cath Ingram – first female State Chair, KPMG Australia
And we are asking our people to make a pledge and tell us what they will be doing to be bold for change on gender parity for IWD.
What we do as a firm to support gender equality is clearly important to our partners and our people and there are three areas where I think we all can make a contribution – irrespective of what we do and where we work.
The first is focus on what practical steps you can do for women in your organisation. An important milestone for us at KPMG was setting new gender targets to build on those we set earlier in 2013. As of 1 July 2016, we are now aiming for 30 percent of women in partnership by December 2020 and are supporting this with sponsorship programs and other initiatives that will propel women through our pipeline.
Second, make use of local and global relationships with business and academia to bring greater insight to this topic. This might be as simple of sharing research with your people, such as our recent client engagement for the Diversity Council of Australia and Workplace Gender Equality Agency work on pay equity.
And third is to further align and build on the support you give outside of your organisation in your communities. Are you an advocate for change in society – in your family and in your community?
International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally and at a local level.
One thing is for sure, International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century and it looks like we will need to keep it on the calendar for a few more years yet while we continue to progress to a point where men and women get to share equally in work and in all aspects of society. So even though I have mixed feelings, I am using this year’s International Women’s Day to be bold for change in my family and at work.