Talent Fueller Interview with Melissa Geiger, KPMG. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’
Melissa Geiger was the youngest female to make partner at KPMG age 32. Now 38 and with two young children she is committed to being a role-model to others and chairs the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW). She was instrumental in pushing female career advancement into the spotlight when the firm went through a leadership contest in 2012.
On influencing managing partner, Simon Collins to see women in leadership as a priority for KPMG:
“I decided the leadership contest was a good time to debate women on boards. KNOW hosted an event which all of the leadership candidates attended, along with a lot of our partners (male and female) and more junior staff. They came because they wanted to hear what was going to be an important part of the leadership campaign. Simon, who already feels personally very strongly about inclusion, has gone on to make diversity one of the key things on KPMG’s agenda and Stephen Frost (previously the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for LOCOG and played a key role in the London Olympics) who is our new head of diversity and inclusion, is brilliant. One of the first things he did was meet with me as the Chair of KNOW. I feel that KNOW has a key role to play in relation to getting the key messages on the table about gender equality at the point when we can really make a difference.
I hope this year there will be more women making partner at KPMG, because we are focussing on the needs of our business and our clients and the identification of talented and successful women for senior roles.”
Melissa’s own team is a 50/50 male/female split of partners which is out of step with the 84:16 ratio of partners across KPMG as a whole as at the time of writing.
Your team is an exemplar for embracing flexible working – a key tool for employees to have a ‘full and rounded life’ whether or not they have children. Tell us more:
In our team, three of the four partners have at some point in the last two years, not worked full time. One partner (a man) has five children and works three days a week. Another partner has done 90% over the last two years to give herself longer holidays – she still works five days but it means that instead of 6 weeks holidays, she gets 9/10 weeks. When I came back from maternity leave I tried different things and then went back to 100% when I was ready to do that. We’ve set a progressive tone for the rest of the team and I think it’s really important it comes from the top.
Amongst our director population some of our male directors do ‘glide time’ – instead of doing 9.30 until 5.30, they officially do their hours as 10 until 6 which means they can do the drop off for school and their spouses/partners do the pickup. And it works in reverse with some people working 8am-4pm. These two recognised glide times enable parents to actively participate in family life, although it’s not only for parents. I can think of rugby players and people who keep horses who taken up glide time to better manage their ability to do these other pursuits.
I think practises like these are very important because the next generation are expecting it. We are competing, and if we are not flexible, we won’t get the best talent. And if we don’t get the best talent, we don’t do the best job.
You mentioned your return to work – how is KPMG helping maternity leavers make a smooth and confident return?
It’s very difficult coming back to work after having a baby, it’s a bit of a culture shock. We do lots of things to help people get back up to speed including technical workshops to cover what they have missed – in my case it was tax legislation – because you really need to know what’s changed. Beyond up-skilling technically there’s support in the form of workshops and having various conversations with a sponsor who will ensure that any issues are resolved. The maternity programme is for everyone, all levels. Melanie Richards, a fellow Partner and Member of the Board, has been hugely supportive to me when I came back from maternity leave. She set a great example for me and so I feel like I need to set a good example for all the people in my team. And there’s a certain amount of supporting each other and that needs to come all the way from the top.
Additionally there’s access to emergency childcare which allows me a nanny for four days a year or a nursery place for eight days – and without cost to me. I’ve used it and been open about when I’ve had childcare issues which is helpful as it sets the tone for others to use it.
Your thoughts on what more there is to do to support mothers’ career advancement?
We need to have what my group is like as the culture across the whole business and that needs to come from the top. I think Simon has done a lot to start pushing that in his leadership, through talking from both the heart and head, and I think the more he does that, the more that culture will push through the organisation and through middle management and the better it will get overall.
I think there is an issue of people either not believing they are entitled to do things, or there aren’t enough people in leadership who are like myself – young, female and a parent, married with two children. When you get promoted, as I have, it is vitally important that you use that position to support others and support best practice.
The question for us is that when women return, how do we keep the progression going? How do you get promoted? The first hurdle is that you come back and into the job you were in; you manage all of the plates at that point and then you get an additional plate because you’ve got to manage your home life and your child also. Hurdle number two is then how to progress my career to the next level? That’s the bit we are focussing on – we get a good level of returners coming back (about 97%) but how many of those get promoted? Asking these questions, and acting on the answers, is what I think will move the number of female partners on.
Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female and/or returning talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch.