When Sheryl Sandberg popularized the idea that career advancement, especially for women, is less like a ladder and more like a jungle gym (an idea Sandberg credits to Pattie Sellers), I immediately related to the concept. My path at KPMG, which is coming up on 20 years long in September, has been anything but linear. But it has been an adventure in both personal and professional growth as well as deep and abiding relationships.
It started in 2002 in the Calgary Audit practice. I'd been accepted into the CPA program and spent my first few years working with oil and gas companies. It was extremely interesting work but I also had my sights on international experience. The opportunity to work abroad was, after all, one of the reasons I joined KPMG, so I sought out a secondment and in 2004 I went to London, England to work for KPMG in the UK, where I spent almost five years. Before I'd left, I was told KPMG member firms share a visual identity and brand internationally, but to see so much of the firm's culture of mutual respect, support and collaboration carry over was remarkable.
In early 2009, a family emergency required me to return to Canada (specifically, Vancouver). Unfortunately, it was not a great time to be asking to relocate. International markets had collapsed and people were losing their jobs. I didn't know anyone in KPMG in Canada's Vancouver office but, fortunately, someone I met in London knew the Office Managing Partner and put me in touch. I called him and explained my situation. As luck would have it, a senior manager in the Energy practice had just resigned so there was a spot for me. The firm was so incredibly supportive of my move and I will always be grateful that they took this chance on me.
A couple of years later, I was pregnant with my second child and preparing to take maternity leave—and the truth is, my thinking about the career path I was on had started to shift. I didn't want to leave the firm, but I was no longer sure whether a new direction would be possible here. I also didn't know where else I might go. But, in the end, it didn't matter." Many people who'd heard I was considering not returning after my leave reached out to say, "Hey, if not Audit, here are some other things you could do." I'd been very involved with recruiting and was a people manager over the years, so the suggestion that made the most sense was Human Resources. After my leave, I promptly became an HR Consultant and I've been supporting HR and operations ever since. Today I am KPMG in Canada's Managing Director of Firm Operations, Talent and Culture, a role that allows me to see and experience the firm from many directions at once.
But I'm skipping ahead a little. It was 2012 and I was about to climb to yet another spot on the jungle gym.
Long distance hopscotch
An opportunity had arisen to support our current CEO Elio Luongo, then the national leader for Tax, as the Tax practice's HR business partner. At this time, "national" roles were always Toronto-based. I was in Vancouver and not willing to relocate again, but I applied anyway. Similar to the Vancouver Office Managing Partner, Elio took a chance on me and gave me the role.
I'm proud to say this was mould-breaking back then. I was the only person working a national role from a regional office. Gradually, given my background as a CPA, I also began to take on more operational responsibility, which helped immensely once Elio was appointed as Senior Partner and CEO.
When Elio was in his new role, I came back from my third maternity leave to support his transition. And it was a transition for me, too, out of pure HR to a chief of staff role. A few more developments would occur over the next five years, leading up to the pandemic and the move into what I'm doing now.
Playmates for life
Long story short: my passion is people, in particular the people of KPMG. They've been here not just with me but for me the entire way—and that's because their passion is people, too. More of this part of the story is available in my first blog post, which I co-authored with our Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Sarah Hayward. Sarah is among my most enduringly trusted colleagues and friends, and the story we tell in that post is of ambitious women being there for each other, through thick and thin, in the broader context of a workplace that never doubted us for a second—circumstances we both know haven't always been available to working women the world over. But I believe we continue to see real and meaningful progress on that front, including with coordinated national initiatives like the Globe & Mail's Women's Collective.
But no, for me at least it wasn't a ladder, and if it was nevertheless a line it also wasn't straight—but I call it the shortest because it got me to exactly where I belong. And now what I want most is to keep paying that forward. This firm has given me so many opportunities to explore and grow, to take risks and to find my own way around the jungle gym that is my life and career. It's why I work at KPMG, why I've worked here for nearly 20 years, and why I intend to stay.
Does any of that sound like the kind of journey you're interested in, too? If so, we want to hear from you.
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