Lynne Doughtie, chairman and CEO of KPMG in the US, is ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world by Fortune.
After 30 years at KPMG she made history by becoming the group’s first female boss in July last year and now has the task of overseeing more than 27,000 people.
She also happens to be incredibly warm, charming, and down-to-earth despite her lofty accolades and reputation as an inspirational leader.
She has made it part of her mandate to get more women into not just male-dominated industries but also find ways to get more women in work at a senior level.
So Business Insider was very excited to sit down with Doughtie over tea in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum meeting.
She gave us a rundown on how she plans to help shape the global agenda, not just at KPMG, on getting more women into work. On top of that, she told us some key advice she would give women and employers about how the mindset has to change about females breaking through the barriers to reach senior positions in their careers.
In a nutshell:
- Seek out and ask for mentors and sponsors.
- Understand the different between the two.
- Work hard and set clear goals.
- Ask for more.
- Press the pause button when you need do.
- Be honest with yourself and stick to what you prioritise in your life.
- Do not place pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly all the time.
- Do not lose your confidence, which has a knock-effect in your career goals, because of immediate circumstances.
But if you want to know more in detail, check out our exclusive sit down interview with her below.
Business Insider: You’ve worked at KPMG for 30 years — how have you seen the professional field change for women in work?
Lynne Doughtie: It has certainly has been an evolution in diversity and inclusion. And in the early days for me as a young women in a profession there weren’t as many female role models to look up to.
So there’s such a sense of opportunity that I have being the Chairman and CEO to pay that back. It’s not just through work, it goes all the way to younger girls coming out of school and looking at leaders and going “she looks likes me, I can do that too.
There’s not one panel at Davos that I’ve experienced that hasn’t gravitated around making sure companies have a diverse workforce — not because it’s just the right thing to do but also because it’s essential to have a wide range of skills to tie in with the pace of change and innovation because of the “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This isn’t just in gender but also in age and ethnicity.
BI: Now that you are the boss, what’s your mandate in helping more women hit a senior level?
LD: We all see business as being an imperative part of this change and there are real tangible things we can do right now to lead to the advancement of women. Over the summer last year, we did a study around women in leadership to get real data around advancement and to find where the pain points are. When you know the pain points, you know how to make a difference.
One of the findings that was really revealing to me was the difference from when women start out in their careers, to when they reach the stage when they reach manager level. When women are starting out in their careers they tend to be confident and look to aspire to leadership role and really want those positions. But then over time, as they advance, they become less confident and don’t think they can attain those roles.
I think especially as women leaders we have to give them the confidence back and tell them you can do this and as a company, we are here to help you. But it has to be a two way relationship. I tell the next generation of women who are aspiring to be senior is that they deliberate about seeking mentors and sponsors. Women leaders need to also reach in within the organisation and give them the confidence and experience to help achieve those career aspirations.
It’s important to understand the big difference between a mentor and sponsor. I was fortunate that I had both and my sponsors have been both men and women.
Mentors are there to listen and talk with you and give you advice which is really helpful. However, women should deliberately seek a sponsor who do not just speak with you — they speak about you.They advocate you and put you in a position to achieve that next level in your career. But again it has to be a two-way street and while a sponsor is great, you need to set out goals and a lot of hard work.
BI: What are the sticking points into why women become less confident over the course of their career?
LD: I think the sticking points with this lack of confidence is because, I truly believe, women want to be excellent at everything before they even take the next step. After 5 to 10 years of working many women are starting families and you want to be perfect wife, the perfect mother, and perfect in job and that was overwhelming.
I remember feeling that myself. Five years into working I had my first child and I was also a new manager and that is hard transition — from being an employee and then moving into supervising. I had new pressures regarding my clients and I was a new mother and I felt I wasn’t good at everything and that’s when my confidence dropped. But you’re not going to be perfect in everything and that’s when I hit the pause button.
Guess what? — all the difficult work tasks passed, my son wasn’t colic-y forever, things changed.
I tell women to not make hasty decision based on circumstances on just that moment in time. Press the pause button.
My daughter is getting ready to graduate and I think about the conversations we had when she was in high school until now. You cannot base career decisions on circumstances in just one moment in time. Personal and professional factors change over time. Things can change a lot in six months let alone from school to college.
BI: What other factors are holding women back, particularly from women themselves rather than from the employer?
LD: Another thing the survey showed was that there was even hesitancy from women to look for a mentor. Like I said, it’s a two way street, so you need to get out there and tap people on the shoulder and ask for things, ask for someone to give you advice, or ask them to be your sponsor. Ask for more. I do that when I am overwhelmed.
At KPMG I want to remove any barriers that make women think they can’t do that and I want to make them feel comfortable to ask for things. We live in an age of technology where we can be really flexible with work programmes.
BI: Do you find as a female leader that you are sometimes under pressure to perform or do things a certain way because so many people look up to you?
LD: I clearly look it as ‘I am a role model’ and [do things] that I think people would like to emulate. However, I always like to say that what works for me may not work for you. Be really honest with yourself and what’s important to you.
For example, today (January 21), my mother died two years ago.
[At this point, Doughtie starts to cry.]
When my mother was ill, there was nothing more important during that time period. I could’ve tried to say “well OK, I have work to do still” but my mother was my only priority. When she died, I had a number of big events and lots of client work I needed to do but I called my boss and colleagues and said I needed to take time out to as she was the most important priority at that time.
Luckily, because of the firm and the culture we have, my colleagues said no problem and gave me the time I needed. It put things into perspective. It’s not always about balancing your work commitments, life changes and it’s about finding balance there too.
BI: I’m very sorry to hear about your mother. She clearly had a massive impact on shaping you into the person you are today. What kind of support and conversations did you have with you mother when you were growing up, especially when you went to specialise in a very male dominated field?
LD: She was an amazing mentor. When I was growing up, I just saw my mother as a successful businesswoman and awesome mother so I never really though ‘I can’t do it.’ I saw how she worked hard, served clients really well, was a great mum to us.
When I went through that time period when I lost a little confidence when I had my first baby and I had just been promoted, she helped me and didn’t make feel guilty if I had to work.
But not every woman has that kind of example.
What’s really cool is that now I have 22 year old daughter graduating college as an engineer and she’s going through interviews right now for her career. She is amazing in her own right and doesn’t need much help but I did say to her one time if she ever wished I didn’t do what I do. She said ‘No! Why would you say that, you love your job, you’ve accomplished amazing things and you’ve been a great mum.’
She is going to accomplish amazing things too and and I am sure she will have an amazing family too, so one day I can be a grandma.
BI: Your mother as a business woman, you at KPMG and your daughter becoming an engineer — clearly early influences helped shape the careers you all have today. Is this the biggest issue in getting more women into fields that are still under-represented by females? After all, that latest WEF report on ‘The Future of Jobs” shows women are going to be adversely affected from the “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Where do we start in getting more women into STEM — Science, tech, engineering, maths:
LD: I am very concerned about this. We all have to do more to encourage young girls to become interested in STEM. I feel fortunate my daughter is an engineer naturally but I do think we are at risk with this “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that the kind of jobs created predominantly in these fields don’t have many women in it.
My son is an engineer too, older than my daughter and when I went to his graduation I was sitting in a balcony and you could see the sea of graduates. Through hundreds of kids, you could just count all the female engineers out easily.
We’ve got to get to these girls early and encourage them and give them confidence way before college level that they can do STEM subjects. We’ve got to change this mindset where ‘boys are good at maths and girls are good at the arts.’
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