While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts often challenge individuals to reflect and act from an outward perspective by learning and understanding the experiences of others, KPMG Principal and Chief Diversity Officer Elena Richards believes there’s as much to be gained looking inward.
Richards, who on Monday will kick off the GW School of Business’ Diversity and Allyship Week as the featured guest of a George Talks Business episode, believes individuals embracing their own lived experiences help companies not only create a sense of belonging but also drive their innovative spirits. A lot of times, she said, people don’t see themselves as part of the diversity agenda. But everyone feeling a sense of responsibility by writing their own chapter to it could make a significant difference in fostering an environment of engagement, belonging and collaboration.
“That's a huge area of opportunity,” Richards said. “We all have work to do on ourselves, and that is going to help us understand the experiences of others around us.”
KPMG, a multinational professional services network and one of the Big Four accounting organizations, hired Richards in November 2020 to lead its DEI pursuits as companies nationwide became more intentional of these efforts following George Floyd’s murder. An accomplished HR, talent management and diversity professional with deep knowledge of the professional services industry, Richards will speak to the GW community about creating an equitable workplace and how businesses can champion sustainable societal change.
GWSB Dean Anuj Mehrotra will interview her from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. in the Jack Morton Auditorium. Registration for the event, which will also be livestreamed on the GWSB YouTube channel, is still open.
Partnering with KPMG’s management committee and board of directors, Richards has helped to advance the firm’s Accelerate 2025 strategy, which is a commitment for more underrepresented talent to choose KPMG as their employer of choice, experience thriving careers within an inclusive culture and advance to partnership and leadership levels.
The aspirations for the plan are for KPMG to have a 50% partner and managing director representation from underrepresented groups, including doubling its Black representation, a 50% increase in its Black and Hispanic/Latinx workforce and significant increase in representation from underrepresented groups in client and firmwide leadership roles.
By making themselves visible with this plan, KPMG’s hope is that this is the first building block toward constructing a diverse pipeline that exposes underrepresented groups to the company’s inclusionary mission. So far, Richards and KPMG’s efforts have seen an increase in promotions for both people of color and women in manager roles or above.
“Our strategy is that every individual person at the firm has a responsibility to make sure that they're setting the right tone and that they are creating a place where everybody feels like they belong,” she said. “Engaging everyone is a key tenant of our strategy.”
Richards was previously a minority initiatives and talent management leader for PwC for 21 years before joining KPMG. When she entered the field, conversations around DEI weren’t as prevalent as they are now. She attributes this to both the COVID-19 pandemic and how its impact disproportionately affected underserved groups, and instances of police brutality against members of the Black community that have sparked nationwide protests and activism.
“Gone are the days where we have been able to keep what’s happening outside the walls of your company,” she said.
She’ll be speaking to a GW Business audience that is putting these efforts to practice early on, as Richards noted the workforce is only going to get more diverse and that there will be an expectation for business leaders to incorporate DEI into their company’s structure. Bloomberg Businessweek recently ranked GW Business as the third-best business school in the entire country for diversity. In 2021 and 2022, the Financial Times named the school No. 1 for percentage of women enrolled in a full-time M.B.A. program in the United States. Also in 2021, the Financial Times recognized GW Business’s international business efforts, ranking it No. 1 among U.S. institutions and No. 2 worldwide.
Richards will advise the GW community in attendance to bring what they are learning in their GW classrooms to make sure everyone is a co-author of the DEI story at their organizations, companies and firms they land at after commencement.
“Each and every one of us must ask ourselves what we are doing each and every day to make sure that our teams feel included, that they have the opportunity to be successful and help people reach their highest potential,” Richards said. “I think we are going to be eons ahead of where we are today.
“We all need to be a part of the diversity journey.”