You need to work harder at diversity, KPMG

Yesterday, KPMG announced that it would be appointing 52 new partners in October and a third of these are women. The firm has been pilloried in the press over the fact that just 15% of its partners overall are female – and this is indeed a cause for concern – but it deserves some credit for how far it’s come over the past five years.

Back in 2009, I wrote an article on gender diversity within the partnerships of the Big Four while I was editor of Accountancy magazine. That year, 15% of PwC’s new partners were female, 15% of EY’s new partners were female, 11% of Deloitte’s new partners were female and KPMG (which was apparently having a particularly bad year in 2009) reported that just 10% of its new partners were women.

So KPMG really has made some progress since then.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that women are a significant minority within the partnerships of the Big Four firms. They do not make up more than 20% of partners in any of them.

This is shocking for two main reasons:

  • Approximately 50% of the world’s population is female; and
  • Approximately 50% of new entrants to the accountancy profession are female.

Furthermore, the accountancy profession is – quite rightly – very vocal in its support of encouraging more women to land board positions in industry. KPMG itself is a member of the UK 30% Club, which was launched in 2010 with the aim of getting 30% women onto FTSE 100 boards by the end of 2015. Currently that figure stands at 22.2%, according to the 30% Club.

But diversity is gathering momentum within business, particularly thanks to European proposals for a 40% quota for female executives on the boards of large companies by 2020.

So the risk for the Big Four firms is that they could soon find that their clients are making far more progress than they are in terms of helping women to reach senior leadership roles. This, in turn, could lead to some awkward questions about governance and equality of opportunity when they bid for work.

Well done, KMPG, for appointing a partnership cohort where a third of new partners are women. There’s plenty more work to be done yet, however, to boost the number of women in your partnership overall.

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