Giuliana Auinger is a Partner at KPMG’s Global Strategy Group in China. In her role, Giuliana is responsible for developing and implementing better strategies for clients across the Retail, Consumer and Technology sectors.
What are your thoughts on diversity within the professional services industry?
I think in general it is improving, but there is always room for improvement, and varies depending on which part of the industry you are looking at. From a gender diversity perspective, it is highly correlated with the nature of work and lifestyle requirements, such as travelling and working hours.
What are your thoughts on diversity within the Strategy sector?
In my experience, we are definitely getting better. We can see gender conversations moving away from being a purely statistical problem in relation to career progression, to one that’s about behaviours and interpretations.
The conversation is shifting towards issues like “how one would interpret professional performance and behaviour”, openly asking questions as to whether we are being equal and considerate when a female behaves a certain way versus when a male behaves a certain way.
I don’t think people have had open and honest conversations with each other about what these interpretations mean, but this would be the next frontier, something that we can improve on.
What are some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives that KPMG is currently employing?
At KPMG we have many initiatives in place to promote an inclusive and open work environment, our teams are also working very hard to ensure we create awareness. We are very heavily involved in public women initiatives, and organisations like The Women’s Foundation, giving our colleagues a chance to get involved, to talk about gender issues, and to support and educate each other.
Internally, we have an inclusion and diversity awareness week, with a series of talks, fundraising events, dinners and lunches, among others. One of the reasons for having such a week is for people to be aware that inclusion & diversity is very important to our firm, and to allow the space and time for open conversations as to what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. On top of that, we also organise CSR activities to further raise awareness among our employees.
Are those global initiatives or are they more regional?
Both, but as a localised business, a lot are specific to our business in China and in the region. We actually have an entire team dedicated to inclusion & diversity, which helps arrange and coordinate the different initiatives, but everyone in the firm gets involved.
Do you think diversity helps with retention?
I believe it does. Especially with our diversity & inclusion initiatives and CSR activities, it helps us build the culture we want and position ourselves as the clear choice for our people and the public. At the end of the day, it helps with retaining people who care about what we do and our society at large.
What do you think are the benefits of having a diverse team and organisation?
Having a diverse team means having people with different perspectives, which is important in professional services and people businesses, because our experience and advice is only as good as a collective. We wouldn’t want a single-minded team, giving “cookie cutter” advice to our clients. Therefore, with diversity, not just in terms of gender, but age, ethnicity, etc., we can bring something more to the table; we bring different perspectives to our clients as well as the market.
What are your thoughts on the glass ceiling, and how can people navigate that?
Within KPMG, I don’t see there being a glass ceiling. I have seen high performing females promoted based on merits and take on senior leadership roles. And as a female in KPMG, I don’t think my career has to stop at a certain place, the sky is the limit.
In a more general sense, it all depends on the industry and the culture of the company. In order to navigate around it, I think it is best done by changing the way you think about it. Glass ceiling to me is a mindset, if you think there is one, there will be, so start thinking without it.
Did you have any mentors in your career, and what do think about the notion of mentoring?
To me, mentors aren’t always necessarily ones that have been officially assigned to coach me, but people who’ve gone out of their way to help me become who I am today. I have been very fortunate to have had a few of those throughout my career.
One of those people would be Stephen, the UK Managing Partner of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants (subsequently acquired by PwC), where I began my career. I didn’t get to work with him much in the beginning, but I’ve always found him admirable, he was able to create the kind of atmosphere where people would go above and beyond their day job to make the firm work, even during tough times like the global financial crisis. He later invited me to help build a new client sector with him, and over time, he became a life-long mentor to me.
I believe mentor relationships cannot be forced, a lot of it is faith, and the rest is mutual respect. Just like how Stephen saw something in me and invested the time to help me learn, I also appreciated the mentorship from him and constantly improved myself to get me to where I am now. I personally also try to take the “Stephen approach”, to go beyond what is assigned; if you are interested to learn, I would always be there to help.
Any advice you would give to companies to be more inclusive to their female employees?
One of the things companies can do would be to try and cater to the different life stages, things like job sharing, flexible working hours, and the option to work from home. In terms of how we think about the workplace, I believe Hong Kong is not quite advanced at times. Culturally we are less used to having these kinds of conversations, and even less when we consider some of the traditional industries. This is something that we can definitely work on, for companies to try and understand what they can do more for their female employees.
Any advice you would give for leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
Stop thinking that your way is always the right way; and have an open mind to everything.
Lastly, any advice to females coming into the professional workforce, particularly professional services?
Don’t limit yourself, if you believe you can achieve something, you will. It really just comes down to your own mentality and attitude, remain positive and you’ll ultimately get a positive outcome.