Wear it purple: questioning our own beliefs about diversity and inclusion

Friday, 26 August is Wear It Purple Day. Set up in 2010 by two Australian teenagers, Wear It Purple is a youth-run, not-for-profit organisation that wants young people everywhere to know they have the right to be safe and proud of who they are regardless of their sex, sexuality or gender identity.

Diversity has been on the firm’s agenda for more than 10 years, and we know that ‘getting it right’ has a moral as well as a business imperative; our people and our clients now expect our firm to reflect its communities. This imperative crystallised when we formally launched our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in 2012, which includes seven focus areas: gender diversity, flexibility, ethnicity, generational, sexual orientation and gender identity, family and disability.

Like many other organisations, our diversity and inclusion journey has been challenging and progress sometimes slow. However, we are proud to have made a significant and sustained contribution towards a more gender-equal workplace and reducing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We led the industry in recognising sexual orientation and gender identity long before others thought to do so. More recently, we reiterated our commitment to gender equity when we announced a new, higher target of 30 percent of women in the partnership by 2020.

These are great initiatives, but I’d like to reflect on two things: what does a diverse and inclusive work environment mean, and why we need to be driving deeper cultural change to improve the quality of our relationships with each other, our clients and the solutions we provide?

For some, diversity and inclusion has become just another corporate buzzword. For others, the words can elicit responses which range from joy, through to apathy or even anger. And for some, diversity and inclusion are used interchangeably.

When we talk about diversity and inclusion, what do we really mean? Very simply, diversity means all the ways we differ. Some of these differences we are born with and cannot change. Inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action where people challenge their beliefs and behaviours. It is what happens when individuals are comfortable embracing their differences and feel they belong.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned diversity and inclusion initiatives can fail if an organisation behaves defensively, putting in place policies that increase diversity without helping people develop a mindset of inclusion. What’s more challenging is that, as an organisation’s workforce becomes more varied, inclusion can become more challenging – embracing and encouraging difference can be really hard!

Our corporate landscape is rapidly evolving. So too is society and our communities. As a firm, our portfolio of business solutions, how we deliver those services, and the range of clients we work with, are very different to those we had just a few years ago. Change is impacting the firm’s ‘license to operate’ across various arenas, how we connect with each other, and also our workforce.

Most of our new joiners are in their early to mid- 20s, and over the next 10 to 15 years millennials will comprise around 75 percent of the workforce. Along with this our definition and understanding of diversity and inclusion is also transforming and this is going to impact how we attract, engage and empower future generations of our people.

This transformation is being driven by an emerging generational gap in how diversity and inclusion is perceived in today’s workplace. Non-millennials tend to frame diversity in terms of equal opportunity and representation across demographic groups and inclusion in terms of organisational fairness, acceptance and integration. For millennials, the notion of having a workplace that reflects society is simply assumed rather than being a goal which must be worked towards. They are moving beyond this, towards “cognitive diversity”, which is more likely to be defined by the mix of peoples’ ideas, experiences and identities. When it comes to inclusion, the focus is on cross-functional ‘teaming’ where a culture of connectivity and collaboration is valued.

This is why Wear It Purple Day is relevant for all of us today. We should be open to questioning our innate beliefs and behaviours, and to be agile and flexible in how, where, and with whom we work and hire. We need to think and behave differently. This is not just about diversity and inclusion. It’s about having a workplace that is authentic, inclusive and relevant for our future.

Get involved this week with Wear It Purple and if you’re up for a sartorial challenge, wear it purple on Friday. I’m going to.


John Somerville is National Managing Partner, Advisory and Executive Sponsor of Pride@KPMG

Pride@KPMG is KPMG’s network for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Partners and staff and their allies


3 thoughts on “Wear it purple: questioning our own beliefs about diversity and inclusion

  1. A great article on the transition in understanding of diversity and inclusion in KPMG, and other leading organisations, over the past decade. We’re noticing in our consulting work that the growing focus on cognitive diversity (diversity of thinking approach) is leading to more open conversations on the importance of ‘identity’ diversity (such as gender, age, ethnicity) in many organisations.

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