Following the murder of George Floyd, many companies got more intentional and focused on their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts than ever before. For some, that meant hiring their first Chief Diversity Officer while others had to experience a shakeup in leadership around diversity entirely.
For Chief Diversity Officers, the last few years have been tumultuous. Some have sought new roles as former employers failed to deliver on promises and others chased new challenges where they felt they could make a greater impact, find better resources or simply grow their own careers.
This interview is the latest in a series of articles dedicated to catching up with CDOs who have moved in recent years to discuss their experience, what the move has done for them, the work they’re doing and the advice they have for other aspiring or current CDOs.
This week, we chat with Elena Richards, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at KPMG. Richards moved to KPMG as a first-time CDO, having served as a Managing Director on a national diversity team previously. In that role, she worked to design and execute strategic diversity and talent management initiatives for the organization’s employees in the United States.
Interview With Elena Richards
DiversityInc: You’ve been at KPMG over a year now, but I want to go back to the period where you made the move from a company where you’d worked for more than 20 years. What did you find exciting about this move for your career and the challenge of starting fresh in a new place?
Elena Richards: I was fortunate to build my skills in areas that impact the employee experience across the talent life cycle, including resource management, talent acquisition, talent management and talent development. The intersection with diversity, equity and inclusion has increasingly become more paramount, and this has excited me most to expand my career into this discipline.
When I joined KPMG, CEO Paul Knopp and the rest of the management committee showcased an obvious commitment to DEI, affirming to me that I would be well supported and expected to challenge the status quo. After speaking with more than half of Paul’s leadership team, I had complete clarity on the organizational aspirations for our people, the shared value with our clients and the engagement we needed to have in our communities to drive meaningful change.
This was a new opportunity to serve as a firm wide leader, driving forward Accelerate 2025, our strategy to attract more underrepresented talent, foster a culture of inclusion and belonging and create a more equitable workplace and profession at large.
What sort of impact has the move had for your career and how would you describe your time with KPMG thus far?
Richards: I am approaching my two-year anniversary – an intentional inflection point for operationalizing our Accelerate 2025 strategy, building relationships at all levels of the firm and being an ambassador of our DEI commitments both at KPMG and beyond.
I brought with me a grounded understanding of the professional services industry which I complemented with a focus on understanding a new culture. As a first time Chief Diversity Officer, I tremendously value the support received from my peer community in addition to the amazing support I have from partners and professionals. There have been some solid wins in the past two years, such as issuing our first Transparency Report, as well as some healthy discussions on how boldness may help us achieve our ambitions. There were many lessons learned that I outlined for the first 100 days as CDO, and I have definitely grown in these first two years, for the better. I am absolutely looking forward to the work ahead.
There have been great opportunities to collaborate more with external stakeholders such as clients, coalitions, community partners, industry associations and social influencers. This has allowed me to consider impact on a much broader level to effectuate sustainable societal change.
What are some of the initiatives you’ve been excited to work on since joining KPMG and what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned through that work?
Richards: The journey for greater transparency and accountability has been extremely important to me. KPMG’s DEI Transparency Report was a great milestone for the firm in sharing information with our people, as well as more broadly with our clients and communities.
Our US Impact Plan, which articulates our ESG commitments, also embeds our DEI aspirations, progress and a path forward as a component of “social.” More recently, the firm celebrated its 125th anniversary by having a day of service, which was a meaningful day of community impact across the nation. My heart is still full from the time I spent with kids at the Armory in NY.
I get excited by our efforts to invest in early career and early identification programs that lead underrepresented students to potential careers in accounting and professional services. What I continue to learn is how much this work matters and the impact it can have on future generations.
How do you see DEI evolving at KPMG and what excites you about the future?
Richards: DEI is embedded into ESG, ultimately providing the foundation, the mindset and the heartbeat to bring ESG to life. With the increasing focus on ESG, and as the economy and technology continue to evolve, DEI is going to keep showing up in business. For example, with the conversations that are occurring around the metaverse, how will organizations think through DEI in the metaverse? How will they navigate the potential implications of a working environment that is increasingly more digital?
For KPMG, DEI is about our legacy and how we make being an employer of choice sustainable for an increasingly diverse workforce. The future and DEI will be dynamic in perpetuity and requires that we reevaluate the value proposition to meet the expectations of our people, clients and communities. I am excited by the endless possibilities this creates to design thriving workplace environments, from talent acquisition to alumni relations.