CEOs speak from the heart to win diversity battle

CEOs speak from the heart to win diversity battle

Simon Collins, UK Chairman of KPMG and Dr. Elisabeth Kelan, Reader, Department of Management, King’s College London, comment on the lack of women at senior levels in organisations.

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An ability to talk about the business case for diversity isn’t sufficient for CEOs to really drive the kinds of behavioural change needed to increase the number of women at senior levels, according to new research by KPMG and King’s College London.  Instead CEOs need to be brave, and talk from their hearts as well as their heads.

In one of the first major studies on the role of the CEO in driving change on diversity and inclusion, Dr Elisabeth Kelan’s research analyses how CEOs of global organisations explain the need for action on gender to themselves and to others, and the kinds of leadership behaviours they use to help make change happen.

CEOs put the lack of women at senior levels in organisations down to a number of factors.  The most frequently cited explanation relates to what Kelan calls ‘management failure’ – the longstanding shortcomings in systems, processes and people necessary to progress gender parity. But CEOs also believe that women themselves seek roles which enable them to balance work with caring responsibilities.  Whilst that may be true of many women, it’s certainly not true of all, and the research shows how despite the best of intentions some CEOs may risk stereotyping the domestic responsibilities of women – and what they bring to the workforce.

CEOs are often influenced to push for gender parity by having strong women in their family, or for other personal reasons.  Many CEOs downplay their personal motivations for diversity, talking instead about commercial and business benefits. In practice the research found the most effective way for CEOs to encourage change is to talk from the heart as well as from the head about why greater gender diversity at the top of organisations is good for business.

Simon Collins, UK Chairman of KPMG, said, “I’m absolutely convinced by the business case for diversity but this research shows that discussing gender diversity in commercial or ‘change management’ terms is not enough.  CEOs need to talk about the issue from a personal perspective and authentically to win hearts and minds.  Much has been written about the importance of leadership in driving change on gender parity but to date there has been little insight in to the specific contribution of the CEO.

“Something needs to change if we are to make better progress on diversity and this research makes it clear that the “something” is how we as CEO’s talk and act. Starting with ourselves gives our businesses – and the women in our workforces– the best possible chance of the legacy on gender diversity that as CEO’s we say we want to leave, and that they so richly deserve.

Dr. Elisabeth Kelan, Reader, Department of Management, King’s College London, added, “The current generation of CEO’s has an opportunity to chart new territory in making progress on this issue and they need to understand the power of doing things with words. Through aligning their words and actions as much as their hearts with their heads, they can set their organisations on a trajectory that disrupts current practices and allows for sustainable change on gender parity.”

The research included input from companies that are signatory to the Women's Empowerment Principles, a joint initiative of UN Women and the UN Global Compact.


- ENDS -


Notes to editors

For further information please contact:

Sorrelle Cooper,

Head of the Press Office,

KPMG: +44 20 7694 8527 / +44 7932 078218

Fergus Wheeler/Louisa Feltes,

FTI Consulting: +44 20 7831 3113

KPMG Press Office: +44 (0) 207 694 8773


About KPMG

KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, is a subsidiary of KPMG Europe LLP and operates from 22 offices across the UK with approximately 11,500 partners and staff.  The UK firm recorded a turnover of £1.8 billion in the year ended September 2013. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. It operates in 155 countries and has 155,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity.  Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such.

King's College London

King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2013/14 QS World University Rankings), and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 25,000 students (of whom more than 10,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate. King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million. King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit:

This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.

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