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The media focus on women on boards has missed the point

Date: 10 Feb 2016

Bumblebee Design

Kulbir Shergill, senior diversity and inclusion consultant at KPMG, says that until we see a shift in female representation in senior positions we will not see the cultural change that is needed for long-term sustainable inclusion.

 

What key topics are on your mind in the diversity and gender debate?

The twenty-five per cent target announced by Lord Davies in his FTSE boards review in 2010 created great debate in the media and society about the rights and wrongs of target-setting. This has led to a better understanding of how targets can help us to measure our progress, the actions that help us to achieve them and to dispel myths such as setting targets equals positive discrimination. At KPMG women make up twenty-six per cent on FTSE boards and we announced our own gender targets in 2014.

What are the basics and what goes wrong?

One of the basics that gets overlooked is that women are not a homogenous group and one size certainly does not fit all. Ethnicity and privilege are two key factors that will differentiate the experience and life chances of a woman. Experiences for women who are gay, older or have a disability will also influence career expectations and reality. I think the focus on women on boards has missed the point that the culture of an organisation is influenced by the day-to-day decision makers and until we see a shift in female representation in senior positions we will not see the cultural change that is needed for long-term sustainable inclusion.

Muslim integration: how do we make women of different origins feel accepted in the corporate world?

We all need to feel valued and accepted for who we are to perform at our best in the corporate world.  Women of different origins need the same recognition. Not wearing a ‘western uniform’ does not stop you from being a high achiever. Seeing more diversity in women in senior positions would make quite an impact – role models are incredibly important to our own sense of worth and fuels our ambitions.

What is good practice in gender and diversity?

One of the most important things to get right is the culture and this means addressing values and behaviours that encourage high performance and recognition of the diversity of talent. This is when the real changes take place. Understanding our biases is important but if we don’t take steps to change our behaviours then the status quo remains unchanged.

What different needs do staff have in this area and what training do you offer that you can tell us about?

We offer all our staff unconscious bias training but this is just the beginning. Training in itself is not enough, we need a change in behaviours to make the difference.  Inclusive leadership behaviours are at the heart of this: leaders, leading by example, by rooting out bad behaviours, and having honest conversations about the things we are too afraid or polite to speak about.  This is what leads to action and change.