It is two weeks after Bina Mehta stepped in to replace Bill Michael as Chair of KPMG UK. It has taken 150 years for Bina to become the first woman to lead one of the four biggest accounting firms in the UK. It is thus, no exaggeration to state that Bina’s appointment is perhaps, the equivalent of the election of American Vice President Kamala Harris, in the corporate corridors of London.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, Bina discusses the need for more women role models and sheds light on challenges female employees continue to face around closing gender pay gap and career progression. But beyond all, she shares her optimism and confidence in future female entrepreneurs leading a paradigm shift in the world of business and investment.
Absence of female role models
“I ventured into the world of Corporate Finance and Restructuring at a time when I was one of the very few women in that field and certainly the only ethnic minority member of my team. So, I didn’t really have role models at that time.”
An anomaly in her industry, Bina had joined KPMG in her early 20s after qualifying as an auditor. Over the years, as she progressed the ranks, serving the accountancy firm in various capacities including supporting the establishment of KPMG India. She has also been instrumental in developing the Corporate Finance business in KPMG US and leading complex restructuring programmes across Europe before moving to Canada and then returning to the UK with her family.
Admiration for Indra Nooyi, working with Pinky Lilani
Although Bina speaks with great adulation and admiration of Indra Nooyi and her poise and ability in leading PepsiCo, she speaks of the lack of female role models in her area of expertise. Thus, navigating through the challenges of her early career with resilience that she had been conferred by her mother.
Her voice hitches ever so slightly, as she recollects, “Growing up, I had very strong women in my family. But my strongest role model is my mum. Her kindness, determination and sheer resilience to battle all adversities is something that I have admired the most and carry with me even today.
Determined in empowering and optimistic about innovative female entrepreneurship, she now works with fellow businesswomen including Pinky Lilani who has been an advocate of kindness in leadership. She is also a member of the Council for Investing in Female Entrepreneurs which is co-sponsored by HM Treasury and BEIS and a member of DIT’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group and the Professional Services Trade Advisory Group.
50% increase in female directors at FTSE-100 firms
And while it may have taken the Big Four in the UK over a century to appoint the first female chair, at KPMG, around 60% of their board members are women with 30% of their board comprising of members from an ethnic minority background. According to the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review, the number of female directors at FTSE-100 firms has increased by 50% in the last five years. The same review also notes that women now hold more than a third of roles in the boardrooms of the UK’s top 350 companies. Thus, achieving their target of 33% of board positions at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 firms being held by women by the end of 2020. The question, however, remains why are we crawling our way to the top?
Welcoming the report, Bina said, “This report shows that momentum for progress has been created. But the report also recognises that there are structural and cultural barriers that may exist for women and under-represented groups. We need to assure that all our efforts address those barriers and create an inclusive culture.
“Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on all sets of challenges that women face: home-schooling, caring for elderly, looking after family besides meeting professional deadlines. These are just the tip of the iceberg. How do you as a leader inspire, encourage and support these women in their journeys? Most of the challenges that female employees feel they face, are centred around the feeling of being valued, being given equal opportunities for progression and knowing that they are supported in those opportunities across structural ranks and by the leadership. Any business organisation or workplace has to have the right foundations for everyone to feel equally valued. Ultimately, that is all about leadership and the commitment of leadership.”
Closing the gender pay gap
While organisations have worked hard to achieve gender parity on their Boards, some are still struggling to address the subject of the gender pay gap. According to the latest report by employment and partnership law firm Fox & Partners, female directors at the UK’s largest financial services firms earn on average two-thirds less than their male counterparts.
Bina stressed the significance of transparency in the reporting of these issues within the organisation. She said, “Closing a gender and ethnicity pay gap is a critical issue for businesses. But are they recognising this and taking action against it? That starts with firms being transparent. If you’re reporting these things, then you are transparent. The next question remains, what is being done about it?”
KPMG employs about 15,600 people in the UK and recently disclosed a 36.2 per cent gender pay gap. But at the peak of women empowerment, the pandemic has thrown up a wider debate about whether females make better leaders.
Pointing to the numerous research studies carried out by multiple universities, Bina concludes, “Research has highlighted having more women in decision making roles leads to better financial outcomes because of diversity thinking and perspective. Not to mention, being empathetic goes a long way in boosting the morale of your colleagues.”