The importance of inclusive behavior was modeled for me early in life. I have many childhood memories of my mother – an entrepreneur and business owner – drawing people to herself, and inspiring them with the genuineness of her interest in them. She invited their perspectives, listened well, treated everyone with respect, and sincerely cared about their well-being.
Today, the power of my mother’s example remains front and center for me as I lead an organization of more than 30,000 professionals. Here’s why: even as businesses embrace new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to transform and reinvent themselves, it remains critical to harness the ideas, perspectives, and experiences of every employee in order to adapt, grow and thrive.
To ensure this happens, an inclusive culture is vital – where every individual in the organization has the opportunity to contribute, and feels empowered to do so. At KPMG, we are intentional about leading with inclusion because we believe it strengthens our ability to make a tangible difference for our clients, our people, and society.
There are a number ways that organizations can cultivate inclusion. I’ll share just a few, with some highlights around activities we’re taking at KPMG.
Create an environment where real, authentic conversations build stronger relationships. This is not a soft objective by any means. In fact, it’s more challenging than many leaders realize because it’s rooted in a culture of trust. We know that organizations that encourage and empower employees to come together and share what they know, are more resilient and can adapt more effectively to market challenges.
To create this trusting culture, it helps to have structures in place to “operationalize” inclusion throughout the organization, so that it becomes part of its very fabric. For example, at KPMG, we have a network of national and local resource groups that engage with large numbers of our people across the firm. Our partners and employees leverage these networks to openly address challenges, float and implement ideas, and capture new opportunities.
Another great model of inclusion is our “Innovation Challenge” where teams of employees present their ideas on new solutions and tools. A panel of judges votes on which ideas to fund, and these friendly – though serious – competitions are broadcast to all the firm’s employees. The message is clear: good ideas can come from anywhere.
Leaders need to model the values of their organizations in ways that encourage inclusive behavior. This means inspiring others to collaborate and work together; ensuring everyone is heard and ideas are shared. As a leader, it also means allowing yourself to be vulnerable; committing yourself to communicating frequently and openly; and more deliberately pulling others into conversations. In the end, it’s about making everyone feel valued – igniting passions and a shared sense of purpose.
Make sponsorship a goal of inclusion. Sponsorship is about putting your name and reputation on the line for someone else. It could be as simple as recommending someone for a new role, yet it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools any organization has. Sponsorship starts by intentionally including diverse, high-performing individuals in important projects, work teams, and searches for high-impact roles.
The important connection between inclusion and sponsorship is perhaps most evident when it comes to encouraging more women to pursue leadership assignments. Research conducted by KPMG has revealed that a majority of women aspire to hold leadership positions, but lack the confidence to go after them. A personal and organizational commitment can change this.
For example, as KPMG’s Chairman and CEO, I make it a personal priority to sponsor high-performing women – pulling them into stretch roles, and empowering them to succeed. Their confidence grows through these experiences, and they often learn things about themselves they hadn’t expected.
Organizationally, KPMG sponsors its annual “Women’s Leadership Summit” and “Future Leaders Program.” The former brings together the next generation of women leaders, providing content, tools and networking to encourage their advancement to the C-suite. The latter focuses on high-achieving female high school seniors. These young women – many having overcome incredible challenges in their personal lives – receive college scholarships, attend a leadership development retreat, and engage in mentoring relationships with senior female leaders in business and society. These experiences accelerate their learning and dramatically build confidence.
As my mother knew instinctively, inclusion has lasting and powerful benefits for the confidence and success of every individual. And, today, as more business leaders are discovering, we’ve only just begun to mine the benefits of more inclusive organizational cultures. At KPMG, it’s a journey we’re delighted to walk with others.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com.