By Lynne Doughtie
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we pay tribute to the women who came before us, blazing trails that made it easier for us to follow in their footsteps. In my case, two women in particular come to mind.
The first is Ethel Watts, the first woman to qualify as an accountant under the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Ethel went on to start her own firm and bravely champion women’s rights in the 1920s. I’m proud to say she was also an alumnus of KPMG, having completed her articles under Sir Harry Peat—the son of Sir William Peat (the “P” in KPMG)—after qualifying.
The second is Mary Randall-Shackleton who, after finishing college, joined our U.S. firm in 1961 as the first female auditor. At that time, there were eight large public accounting firms known as the Big 8. Six of them refused to grant Mary an interview (despite her being at the top of her class), and the seventh declined to make her an offer. That left Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Company (our predecessor firm), which ultimately hired her.
It’s hard to imagine that up until the 1960s, there were very few women in public accounting firms—and those that were often sat in secretarial pools. As I fast forward to the present and look around the industry, I see remarkable change: Women sitting in the C-Suite—an accomplishment that would do Ethel and Mary proud!
We’ve made great progress, but we still have work to do to advance even more women into leadership roles. I’m also keenly aware that women remain in the vast minority when it comes to leadership roles in corporate America.
Today, just five percent of the Fortune 500 are led by a female CEO. Yet study after study finds that companies with more women in leadership roles tend to be considered “higher quality” companies, with better returns on equity. In fact, companies that utilize female talent effectively are 45 percent more likely to report improved market share.
So what can we do to lift women up?
We know that enhancing career opportunities for women by driving local and national initiatives that support, advance, retain and reward women make a difference. And activities focused on mentorship, sponsorship, networking, relationship building, leadership and skills development are all important.
But, to make a deeper impact, we must get surgical. We have to do more than putting the onus on women by telling them to go out and find a mentor, a sponsor, or a wider network. We have to actually identify high-potential women by name, develop their skills, get them broad experience and exposure, and strategically map them to those who can help them get to the next level. We have to set goals, measure them, and hold leaders accountable for lifting others up.
As we pause to remember the pioneers who came before us, let’s also think about the future. There are tens of millions of up-and-coming women and girls who have the desire and talent to lead. We all have a responsibility to be role models—to reach in and lift them up—and to give these future women leaders the confidence, insights, and know-how to achieve their dreams.
Lynne Doughtie is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of KPMG in the United States. To arrange an interview, please contact Ichiro Kawasaki.