Date posted: 21/09/2018

KPMG diversity head outlines why change can drive results

Mary Lou Maher, Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity at KPMG International, shares her perspective on the case for change in the area of diversity.

In brief

  • Diverse teams can improve financial performance
  • Succeeding in a world of constant disruption demands diverse ideas and perspectives
  • Innovation is driven by ideas from a broad range of different people

The business case for diversity has been well articulated, with numerous studies demonstrating how diverse teams drive improved financial performance. So why are we continuously having to justify the case for a bigger and better focus on Inclusion & Diversity (I&D)? Today we speak to Mary Lou Maher, Global Head of I&D at KPMG International, and fellow chartered professional accountant, on why we still have to argue the case and the key messages she shares with business leaders to drive change.

I get frustrated at the pace of progress for I&D when it is good for society, individuals and business, whichever way you look at it. But I am also pragmatic and optimistic in equal measure and recognize that everyone is on a journey to understand the true importance of inclusion and diversity to them and the world around them. And the speed of everyone’s journey is as diverse as the world we live in. My story began over 35 years ago when I was the first person in my family to go to university (not bad for a small town Canadian farm girl) and includes my marriage to the love of my life, Virginia, and my appointment as the Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity for KPMG International. Even today I am continuously learning how to build the case for inclusion and diversity given the world we live in today – whether to colleagues, community leaders or CEOs from around the world. Over that time I’ve learned to reframe the conversation – focusing on the things that are top of mind for business and society leaders. Here are a few of the conversation starters I’ve used.

Hearts matter at least as much as minds

A few years ago, KPMG in the UK and Kings College in London researched why the pace of change on inclusivity was slower than anticipated.  We found most business leaders are already convinced by the business case for diversity, but this research shows that discussing gender diversity in commercial or ‘change management’ terms is not enough. CEOs need to talk about the issue authentically and from a personal perspective, to win hearts and minds.

Homogeny doesn’t breed innovation

Succeeding in a world of constant disruption demands a diversity of ideas and perspectives. A recent study by North Carolina State University showed that companies embracing diversity from multiple angles (e.g. geographical, educational, etc.) are more successful when it comes to innovation.

Why? Because innovation doesn’t happen when we are surrounded by our mirror image, echoing our own voice. It happens when we draw on the richness of people’s perspectives and find opportunities for those perspectives to intersect – that’s when innovation happens and ideas surprise us.

Inclusion and trust are two sides of the same coin

Trust in business is at an all-time low – according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. In today’s world where every action by a leader, politician or organization is scrutinized in the court of public opinion, trust can be built or destroyed overnight. Inclusive work cultures that embrace ethical behavior will succeed – research from Northwestern University suggests people working in diverse workforces are more likely to challenge questionable behavior. So it’s a business imperative we all have a lens on our culture, build the resilience to stand up for what is right, no matter what, and drive inclusion in all aspects of our business.

Big issues can’t be solved by a few

Too often we fall into the trap of not bringing the full power of our diversity to the table when trying to solve issues. For example, every year at the World Economic Forum global meeting in Davos, Switzerland, business, cultural and societal leaders from around the world meet to discuss the biggest issues facing the world. Yet, in 2018 only 21% of those attending were women. We have to challenge ourselves to do more to reset this type of imbalance, not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do but because it’s the ‘only’ thing to do if we are going to find solutions to complex issues in a changing world.

If you bring 50% you give 50%

It may sound obvious, but people are more engaged when they can bring their full selves to work. A recent Stonewall survey found that concealing your sexual orientation can impact key drivers of engagement and reduce productivity by up to 30%. If we don’t create environments that enable people to be themselves we will never achieve our individual and collective potential – and that’s not good for anyone.

I began by saying that I was frustrated at the pace of progress. I want to end by saying that I am energized by the social consciousness I see building around me every day. We have the potential to make decisions and take action that drives positive and inclusive change – don’t let that opportunity pass you by because that’s what it means to be human.

An inclusive future is there for the taking. Let’s create it together and take collective accountability for our progress. The #futureisinclusive – I challenge everyone to play their unique part getting us there.” 

Join Mary Lou Maher at the Tax Conference in Auckland and find out more about this topic and much more.

1. Source: North Carolina State University:

2. Source: Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management


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