Diversity drives KPMG to top

Workplace culture is one word – ‘inclusive’

Without the support and advocacy of senior partners at KPMG Canada, Steven Watts, an Indo-Canadian and partner at the firm’s financial service auditing practice in Toronto, might have had to endure a much longer process to earn his chartered accountant designation in Ontario.

“Whenever I had to go to plead my case to the applications committee, I was always accompanied by very senior partners to support my case,” says Watts. “Time after time, we tried to get the committee to grant me the opportunity to write only the final exam. Today, with the firm’s help and support, I have earned my designation.”

Mario Paron, chief officer of HR at KPMG Canada, says the firm made a commitment to help Watts.

“The rules weren’t clear at the time, and having foreign credentials recognized is a problem for a lot of new Canadians,” says Paron. “We believed in him.”

The workplace culture KPMG strives for is, in one word, “inclusive,” says Paron.

“We truly want all people, regardless of their culture, race, gender, et cetera, to believe they fit in here and, more importantly, believe they can succeed here.”

Diversity is a reality at KPMG, where 23 per cent of employees are visible minorities. Recognizing a diverse workplace is the future, and pioneering strategies that engage new Canadians and minorities while also supporting the core value of “family matters,” is one of the reasons KPMG made Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2008, the second year in a row it has been on the list. And this year, it added another accolade when it was named to Mediacorp Canada’s Top 20 Employers for New Canadians.

Citing the war for talent, and the fact that much of the nation’s new labour force growth will come from new immigrants, Paron says: “KPMG believes all our initiatives are fundamental business goals about attracting the brightest and best people. This is a real business strategy for us.

“Diversity is relevant in our recruiting. We look at our clients, society in general, the population we are recruiting from, and we feel we have to mirror that. It’s very important to have an open mind about where talent comes from, what our clients’ needs are and how to reflect them.”

KPMG attributes its low turnover rates to its three-pronged diversity agenda. Voluntary employee-driven “member networks,” including a women’s network, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network, a parents of special-needs children club and an international club, offer firm-wide networking and support.

A new global diversity learning program, called “High-Impact Communications in a Diverse Workplace,” is being offered to managers this year. Developed with the aid of an outside vendor, the half-day, in-person course trains managers in communication differences between cultures. And while always an active partner in the mentoring program offered by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, KPMG doubled its participation rate last year, providing more than 50 active mentors.

“It’s a bit self-serving because it helps our people learn to be better mentors,” says Paron. “But it’s also about being socially responsible. It’s a very valuable and good thing to do.”

It also helps KPMG’s recruitment strategy. Two mentoring relationships with new Canadians have so far resulted in permanent roles at the firm.

Recognizing KPMG’s 1,800 employees may face challenging lifestyle situations given Canada’s aging population, the firm offers to reimburse the full cost of up to 80 hours of eldercare per year, says Paron. Employees also enjoy three weeks’ paid vacation to start and seven paid personal days each year.

KPMG also offers leave benefits to employees who are adoptive parents and financial grants to help cover adoption-related expenses up to $20,000. Paron says the benefit is simply another example of the firm’s “inclusive” culture.

“One of our values is that we work together. We take a team approach to things, whether it’s related to work arrangements, or in this case, adopting somebody,” he says.

Lesley Young is a Newmarket, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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