All of this week, Big Four firm KPMG have been celebrating intersectionality in the workplace. Intersectionality simply refers to the interconnected nature of personal characteristics such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion, and how one individual can identify as being in multiple identifying groups – the issue arises when someone who does fall into more than one group is boxed into one identity by the people around them.
Accountancy Age spoke to head of the KPMG LGBT network, David Pearson and KPMG’s I&D senior lead Edleen John about the importance of intersectionality and supporting a diverse culture in the workplace.
1. What is intersectionality awareness week at KPMG?
Edleen: Our intersectionality awareness week is really about raising awareness among our employees and partners about the fact that characteristics don’t operate in a vacuum. They intersect with one another and we must proactively recognise this. It’s really about making our colleagues aware of it. We often stereotype or think of certain individuals as having certain characteristics and it’s about saying actually individuals might be gay, BAME, trans, or something else and these elements might make up parts of who we are and we are all individuals.
David: For me, people’s identity looks more like a jigsaw or mosaic, it’s not a sculpture with one material used to create one entire piece. It’s different bits and pieces that come together. So intersectionality week is about celebrating diversity within people as well as diversity across the firm. Coming from the LGBT community myself, the intersectionality that Edleen described isn’t always well understood within the wider community but even in distinct diversity communities. For example, LGBT people don’t always realise the importance of being BAME to someone who is from an African-Caribbean background. Intersectionality is about realising the different elements that make up people. We often just lump people into one group – we say ‘women’ but that’s roughly half the population and they’re assumed to be all identical but women could be disabled, BAME, LGBT, have a faith background, and so on, or all of the above.
2. What activities and education pieces are you doing this week at KPMG to raise awareness of intersectionality?
David: The first thing we have done is collaborate between KPMG’s LGBT network, Breathe, and our African-Caribbean network to create this week-long initiative. It might even be unique across the profession to have a specific week to focus on intersectionality between LGBT and BAME. We have invited those who are BAME or those who identify as LGBT or as an ally to share their stories and advice. We’re collating those stories and sharing them on our staff intranet and via email through the firm’s diversity networks, which we have 16 of, and the internal comms team support this, so it will also be shared with other news outlets too.
Edleen: our plan will broadly use the various communications we have with specific populations, so for example we will let partners and directors know, and a weekly newsroom that goes out to all our employees to be able to publicise the stories and people’s experiences, and share and enhance this awareness across the organisation so even individuals that aren’t part of our official diversity networks can still learn and understand about the experiences of some of our intersectional colleagues.
David: As part of Breathe network’s resources we have produced micro-learnings. We have ones around trans, bisexuality and asexuality and we are currently producing one around intersectionality. These stories and case studies and the practical tips and advice that come out of it will be integrated into the mirco-learning, which will be made available to all a staff. Again I’m not aware of any other organisation that is, through its LGBT network, creating a series of learning resources through its training sessions.
3. What key issues are there around intersectionality in the work place and how can businesses overcome these?
Edleen: As organisations looking at diversity, we often tend to think about things in buckets and consider what we are doing to support our gender agenda, LGBT agenda, or BAME agenda and I think KPMG is quite lucky that we are trying to look at it with a broader lens. While we have specific focuses we also recognise that one person’s experience as an LGBT individual might be very different to if you are an LGBT person with a Muslim background, which might be different to an LGBT individual from a Muslim background from a Caribbean family, so we try to help our organisation and the business community recognise it. While buckets are helpful in starting the diversity conversation it’s far more complex than that. To do it successfully you need to recognise that all of these things interact with one another so as an organisation we have a business responsibility to support those intersections and create awareness, recruitment, retention and everything else we do across those diversity lines.
David: The default assumption is that sometimes, when you speak about LGBT people, they are white, gay, middle class males and that simply isn’t true so we need to break down this stereotyping and bucketing up of a whole group of very diverse people into one label. Overlooking those multiple aspects of a person’s identity in the workplace can distort those identities and have an impact on how included people feel. If all the programs we design lump people together into these different groups it doesn’t produce the sort of inclusion we want to foster in our organisation. Picking up from what Edleen said if you are LGBT and have a Muslim background, and the Breathe network is providing opportunities that feature alcohol then you might not feel comfortable going and so you would not feel included. It means when we design events in the network we must put some on that are at breakfast and lunchtime, or in the evening but don’t feature alcohol. There are also issues around making sure people have a voice and will attend events and have a platform, and making sure this isn’t always the same white, middle class, male.
4. How do you plan to encourage everyone to speak about intersectionality?
Edleen: it’s one of the broader aims of our I&D strategy generally. We are an organisation that wants to create equal opportunities for our people irrespective of what their background is or what their sexual orientation or ethnicity is, actually it’s about us working together to create a fairer future for all of us. So we have broader plans for what we will execute in the next financial year. It’s about saying ‘this journey is not just for the Breathe network or the ACM network to focus on, but it’s about every single one of us as individuals in this organisation working together to create a more inclusive culture and a fairer organisation more broadly’.
David: there is also a practical outcome which is that in early October the LGBT and African Caribbean networks are collaborating on an event which again will feature intersectionality. This week is for us to focus on this internally in the firm, but the event in October is for our clients to attend as well which will showcase some success stories of BAME and LGBT people and what they have achieved in the business world and outside it.
5. How do you at KPMG encourage people from any background and diversity to apply to work at your firm?
Edleen: we do a huge push from a branding and marketing perspective to make sure we are showcasing our diverse employees and we want to have people who are the most talented, irrespective of anything else. So we do a lot on social media, we do a lot with PR, and then we challenge our recruitment companies, saying we want diverse people to come into our organisation. On the student and grad front we look to go out to a broad base of universities and schools, working not only with careers coaches and tutors but working with student societies with diverse members across the industry more broadly. We organise, for instance, work experience to give people a chance to come and experience life here.
David: we actually run an LGBT-focused careers event called Authenticity, with other City firms. LGBT students from around the country come for half a day to experience and learn career-related skills to market themselves, gain knowledge of the organisations, and understand what it’s like to be LGBT in these organisations.
Edleen: from the BAME side we held a black heritage week where we had 30 undergraduate students from a plethora of universities coming to learn about all the different departments here, meet junior and senior role models, some of black heritage, and then there was a panel where they could ask what it was like to be black within KPMG.
6. What can individuals do who are allies or people who want to educate themselves within the workplace to support intersectionality?
Edleen: one of the first phases is about upskilling yourself and having an awareness. Leverage the resources available – like David mentioned micro-learnings, intranet sites, avenues to ask questions, and engage with the network – our networks are not just for employees who are in those groups. Then think about how to proactively do this on a daily basis. If you are a manager are you creating an inclusive environment for employees and if not why not? We all have unconscious biases and that’s part of being human but to overcome them you have to challenge yourself and call other people out for not being appropriate too.
David: Challenge your own assumptions. A lot of the issues that arise around intersectionality is because people make assumptions. Assumptions about who someone is, about what their identify is made up of, what’s important to them, how they see themselves, about their stories and their journeys. These can get in the way. In the accountancy profession like many others, the skills we need to work under time pressure to get things done and take an analytical approach makes us successful in the work we do but can get in the way of creating inclusion. So it’s about stepping back and making sure this doesn’t happen.
7. Why do you both do what you?
Edleen: what drives us is supporting the creation of equal opportunities for everybody. It’s my responsibility to help drive that forward and everyone else’s. There’s no point moaning that I think no one understands my background or people don’t truly understand what it’s like to be female or from a black heritage family – actually I need to go out there and tell people. Part of helping the situation is understand that some individuals are not inclusive because they don’t have exposure, and so part of my responsibility is to encourage this exposure.
David: my vision is inclusion for everyone, everywhere, all the time. I see the potential of the Breathe network going far beyond just being a support network for LGBT people to make this complete inclusion happen.