KPMG (No. 11 on 2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) this summer named Darren Burton as the firm’s new vice chair of human resources, with responsibility over all human resources activities, including compensation, benefits, campus and experienced hire recruiting, training, talent management and diversity.
Burton has more than 20 years of experience leading HR programs and strategies for large employee-focused organizations, particularly in areas such as talent management, employee engagement and performance development. He joined KPMG from Raytheon Company, where he most recently served as vice president of human resources.
DiversityInc caught up with Burton, who shared his thoughts and advice on diversity, inclusion, careers and talent management.
DI: Why is diversity and inclusion important to you?
Burton: In my role as an HR professional, I see diversity and inclusion as a business imperative and key to an organization’s success. In order to have the best talent, you need to cut across the widest spectrum of people. That means attracting the best candidates, wherever they may come from, and creating an environment where they not only feel welcomed and respected but also have the support they need to be successful. With the broad demographic changes that have been taking place over the last several years, the organizations that are most effective at creating an inclusive environment, where people feel that they can be themselves and build their careers, are going to be most successful.
I also think it’s critical for an organization to align its diversity efforts with its strategy and business needs. For example, think about innovation. The current business environment is complex and constantly changing, and the organizations that know how to embrace this change and innovate are going to be well positioned for success. To truly embrace innovation, you have to recognize that it is going to come from teams that have people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Simply put, inclusion drives innovation — in the way we solve problems, the way we serve our clients and the way we relate to one another.
DI: You have worked for a variety of industries. How has that helped bolster your career? What were the challenges and how did you rise above them?
Burton: Having worked in a variety of industries, I’ve seen many different business models and have been able to gain broad HR perspectives and insight that I can now bring to my role at KPMG.
A large part of my job is assessing the organization and determining the HR tools and strategies we can deploy to have the most significant impact on employee engagement. Having worked in diverse environments such as technology, manufacturing, and now professional services helps me to be more flexible in terms of shaping an approach or style to suit the specific business situation. So even though my new role is very different, in terms of the business model in which I’m operating, I’m confident knowing that I’ve seen many of the same opportunities and challenges in a variety of environments and know how to work through the process of implementing effective solutions.
DI: How do you navigate D&I differently for a computer company and a defense company, for example?
Burton: I think the general approach to creating an inclusive culture should be consistent, regardless of the type of organization you’re in. You need to focus on identifying the best talent and providing a welcoming and supportive environment that gives them the tools, resources and respect they need to be successful.
DI: What advice would you provide for people seeking to expand their career at a company where they already are, or as they navigate different organizations?
There are a few key pieces of advice that I would give to anyone who wants to develop their career:
- Understand the business you’re in. Become a good student of the organization and learn everything you can about how your role fits into the big picture.
- Take on challenging assignments that stretch your abilities and expand your skills, experiences and knowledge.
- Create a strong network of people you trust — and who trust you — so you can support and help each other grow.
- Take full advantage of sponsors and mentors, and always be on the lookout for feedback.
DI: Did you have a mentor or sponsor? How did that help you? And, do you sponsor or mentor any employees?
Burton: I’m a firm believer in the importance of mentors. Whether you’re seeking long-term career guidance or simply looking for a second opinion on a specific issue you’re dealing with that day, I think it’s important to be able to tap into a broad network of people who can provide feedback, advice and guidance.
I’ve been fortunate to work with many mentors and sponsors over the course of my career and have benefitted immensely from the coaching and counsel they have provided me. As a result, I try to help others as much as I can and have built many mentoring and coaching relationships. In many cases, these relationships have transcended organizational boundaries, where we’ve maintained a close relationship even after my mentee has moved on to a new role outside the organization.
I look forward to having the opportunity to build additional mentoring relationships with my peers and colleagues at KPMG.
DI: What diversity management emphasis will you bring to your new position? Is there an area of D&I — mentoring, ERGs, etc. — you feel is critical for every organization, and why?
Burton: I think employee resource groups and networks are critical to an organization’s ability to engage and develop its diverse professionals, and also to help raise awareness among the broader population of the importance of inclusiveness. For the individual employees, these groups provide access to a network of peers with similar backgrounds and can help them to build relationships, broaden their experiences, and participate in career development programs.
One of the things that impressed me about KPMG is the great work being doing by its seven national Diversity Networks, which engage about 40 percent of employees across the firm. I’m looking forward to working with the network leaders to help them build upon the success they’ve already achieved and to expand their reach to touch an even higher percentage of our people.
Another area that I’m particularly interested in is growing our pipeline of diverse talent. One of the biggest questions facing our profession is whether the pipeline of diverse professionals who are choosing to go into accounting is large enough to meet our needs and objectives.
So in addition to finding ways to try to increase the traditional pipeline, we’re going to have to be innovative and keep thinking about other disciplines and talent pools that we can tap into to achieve our objectives.