kpmg diversity

Stephen Frost, UK head of diversity and inclusion at KPMG, discusses how creating an inclusive culture can benefit both individuals and business. 

With around a quarter of people suffering from mental health issues at some point in their career, and many more struggling at work due to personal issues, creating an inclusive culture isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense. With mental health accounting for some £4.13 billion of UK staff turnover costs every year, there is a strong business driver for trying to address this as a priority.

Earlier this month, KPMG and the Business Disability Forum (BDF) launched a new guide to encourage professionals to have the difficult conversations about personal issues, mental health or disability that they might have previously avoided. The guide, “Managing difficult conversations”, arms line managers with the appropriate tools to feel confident about having honest and open conversations with colleagues with disabilities.

The research behind the guide found that the conversations managers find most challenging are those with angry, distressed or uncommunicative employees; when the subject matter is embarrassing; or when the conversation may cause the person distress. They also say that conversations can be tougher still when the person involved may have a mental health condition or other disability.

Conversations that bring us closer

For us at KPMG, inclusion goes far beyond having recruitment policies and processes in place. The key to retaining and supporting all staff to thrive is creating an environment where people can be open and honest and bring their whole selves to work. Our managers are the people that set the tone for that culture every day by having quality conversations. Supporting them to feel confident and comfortable to have those conversations is a priority.

It’s somewhat ironic that the difficult conversations we often avoid are precisely those that could bring us closer together.  This was our main reason for supporting BDF’s guide in the first place.  Often managers give colleagues a dis-service by avoiding the conversation for fear of getting it wrong.  This avoidance mechanism costs money as well as causes unnecessary suffering, our people are our best asset and we want to ensure good people stay with us and that we remove barriers to them performing at their best.  Talking is one of the most effective ways we can start to remove barriers.

The launch of the “Managing difficult conversations” guide coincided with our own inclusion week, which saw nearly 2,000 staff attend 36 events around the UK and take part in discussions to increase their awareness about diversity and commitment to inclusion. During the week, we demonstrated our commitment to honest conversations by publishing our own diversity statistics and the targets that we aspire to achieve within 3 years.  It’s another conversation that many businesses prefer to avoid – because it can be uncomfortable.  We don’t yet look like society but we concluded that the only real way to achieve meaningful change was to be transparent about where we were and where we would like to be.  We are the first company in the UK to publish this level of detail on sexual orientation and disability as well as ethnicity and gender.  I’d like to think that this honest approach will appeal to many people who will consider KPMG favourably as a result.

For us it is about attracting and developing the best talent so that we can serve our clients in the best way.  Differences in mentality – cognitive diversity – is to be prized.  Some of our greatest inventors, academics, creatives had mental health conditions.  We now simply seek to support modern day minds and reap the benefit of cognitive diversity to the benefit of our clients. The way to ensure we can achieve this is to create an environment where all staff feel valued for who they are. We want to leverage the unique skills and experience that each person brings to the benefit of the organisation and our clients. The targets reflect the journey we want to go on and will serve as a check and challenge to our processes; if we are getting the culture right, the numbers are of somewhat secondary importance.

Seasoned diversity champions will know how hard it is to move from everyone agreeing that it is a great idea to translating that into action or results. But both internally and externally, we are trying to lead by example, and hope this strong message goes some way to helping other organisations to do the same.

Written by Stephen Frost

Stephen Frost

Stephen Frost is KPMG UK Head of Diversity and Inclusion and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University

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