What it takes to lead the way on Gender Diversity: KPMG’s landmark event in Luxembourg

Many companies aspire to be leaders in Diversity. But after so many years of progress and innovation, this ambition becomes increasingly difficult. KPMG Luxembourg made an effort and succeeded in setting a new standard in their very International business environment. The firm combined a few aspects in a clever way, resulting in a large, half-public event in the run-up to International Women’s Day, featuring a mix of International experts and local leaders. One month later, the Community still talks about the First Gender Diversity Summit, company representatives report.

When politicians defend quota for women, they often declare this doubled-edged sword as the last remaining possibility to achieve equality. This dark – and false – picture suggests that everything has been said and tried on the topic, which now must be turned into a rigid, technical exercise. To prove the opposite, KPMG Luxembourg aimed at presenting new insight into Gender Diversity and bringing together thought-provoking experts for an event at their new Headquarters on Plateau Kirchberg – 39 JKF. With this initiative, the company wanted to foster their leading position that Managing Partner George Bock illustrated through numbers: “With more than 23% female partners and 47% female directors, we are already on the right path towards gender parity,” he said during his opening address. The event became another impressive illustration of KPMG’s leadership ambition: It happened on 25 February, ten days prior to International Women’s Day and brought together an extraordinary line-up of speakers and panelists from four countries.

In her key-note speech, Baroness Susan Greenfield broke the myth that gender differences are just given by nature. Findings from decades of brain science show that brains can be rewired and environment is key in this. Greenfield, a neuroscientist, author and Oxford professor, inspired the audience to harness the female mind-set in the corporate world if differences are “celebrated and harnessed, not denied”. Experiments with mice show that “enhanced environments” are required to allow connections in the brain, that were built up over the years, to change. This ‘nurture’ aspect may ultimately have a larger impact on gender behavior than the genes – or ‘nature’.

KPMG UK’s Vice-Chairman, Melanie Richards, reported on her company’s journey in Diversity, including its progress on Gender. As an executive, she emphasized the importance of metrics in KPMG UK’s business environment but also the need to change the existing culture. Hence, her UK organization, which is with 14,000 employees among the largest in the global KPMG network, has set targets for gender, ethnicity, age and LGBT diversity, and also pays attention to change the dynamics of unwritten rules, including where and how they recruit or how they mentor and develop talent. Richards also had a strong message on quota: They might help on Board level, but they don’t help with the pipeline.

The three top speakers, Bock, Greenfield and Richards, then had a lively panel discussion led by Diversity Guru, Michael Stuber, who – as always – had some unexpected questions like how to combine a gender focus with a broad Diversity approach or how to manage bias that spills over from society into the workplace.

The next panel proved that the event was rightly called the First Gender Diversity Summit. Three top executives from the Luxembourg business community discussed the local situation and perspectives: Francoise Thoma, Executive Vice President of Luxembourg State and Savings Bank (BCEE), Robert Dennewald, President of FEDIL Business Federation, and Marie-Helene Massard, CEO of AXA Luxembourg. They pointed out that the International make-up of Luxembourg’s economy was a great asset for Diversity Management and political regulation can only support the process. Once more, quota were rejected and Thoma said, “Where there are quota women, there are also quota men”. The panel gave inspiring examples of what already works well at, e.g., AXA or in the Luxembourg business association.

The question, if the next generation will provide an evolutionary solution to the gender question was discussed with three future leaders. Nancy Thomas (IMS), Jean-Etienne Griesbeck (Carvivo) and Gabriela Tennhard (KPMG Luxembourg) talked about the possibilities that new technologies provide in advancing the gender diversity agenda. Moderator Stuber used current research findings to let the panel discuss how they feel they can influence the existing culture and what the diversity of the young generation Y may imply for Diversity.

In her closing speech for the event, Alison Macleod, Partner, Supervisory Board member and Gender Diversity leader at KPMG Luxembourg, reported about the ongoing commitment of her company for gender diversity. The topic has been and continues to be one of the firm’s top 10 priorities, involving partner and director ambassadors, leading to new tools and helping the company to identify and leverage market potential.

A video and some news articles on the event can be found here.