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Episode 31: Celebrating diversity in global mobility

06.13.2023 | Duration: 28:36

On this next episode of Mobility via Podcast, Brandon Ament leads a discussion with Global Mobility leaders Katherine Avery, Rajiv Thadani and Robert Smith, on the importance of equity, inclusion and belonging for global mobility teams and programs.

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Podcast transcript


Hello everyone and welcome to our next episode of Mobility via Podcast, a KPMG Tax Radio podcast series covering a range of global mobility topics from remote work to talent management, business strategies, tax matters and mobility technology, just to name a few.  I'm Brandon Ament, a manager in our Global Mobility practice based in Philadelphia, and I'll be your host for today's episode in which we'll be discussing diversity in Global Mobility in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride month.  Joining me today are my Global Mobility colleagues, Katherine Avery, Rajiv Thadani and Robert Smith.  Welcome all and thank you for joining us.  To kick things off, can each of you please tell us a bit about your diverse backgrounds and how diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging has changed in the workplace over the course of your careers?  Robert, would you like to start us off?

Transcript continued


Thanks, Brandon.  So, first let me say happy Pride month and celebration of Juneteenth.  There is so much from a diversity perspective for us to celebrate in the month of June.  I'm Robert.  I’m a member of our Global Mobility Technology team, and I'm also a member of the LGBTQ+ community and identify as a gay man.  I've always joked that I knew I was gay when I was around five years old.  My parents tell me they knew a bit earlier, and so it's obviously been something that's been part of my identity for as long as I can remember, and what I can say is that my time in the workforce, which has been about 15 years, acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals is vastly different.  I can tell you that when I actually started my career, I built being a member of the LGBTQ community into my interview strategy which was certainly not the norm at the time and something that made me very nervous.  

What I can say, though, is that we've seen very positive strides as a community since that point.  Of course, as in the U.S. we looked towards marriage equality which was passed in 2015, we saw company involvement in LGBTQ initiatives really start to ramp up and shift.  We saw companies signing onto briefs about marriage equality.  We saw companies also proactively providing more equitable benefit structures for their LGBTQ employees, and we've also seen of course states and cities start to put in legal protections for the community as well to make sure that there's not discrimination either based in hiring or in identifying as part of the workforce.  

The last thing I'll say, a lot of this is really built on the backs of the community themselves and the fact that we see individuals coming up within the workforce, identifying more freely than we have in the past.  My generation, the millennials, there are several statistics that basically put our identity rate at about seven to ten percent identifying in the workforce as LGBTQ, but Gallup actually noted in a poll in 2022 that Gen Z Americans, that number is up to 21 percent.  So, we continue to see that representation increasing, and I think that as we've seen these items such as marriage equality, these legal protections come into play, more individuals feel comfortable being themselves and identifying as a member of the community.


Hi everyone.  I'm Katherine Avery, and I am a 55-year-old female, an ally and a feminist, which means that I believe all genders should have equal rights and equal opportunities.  I've been in the workforce a little longer than Robert, over 30 years, and I have to say things look a lot different now than then when I started.  

So just dialing back the clock a little bit, when I started work, just to paint you a picture, there was smoking in the workplace.  So, the rooms were filled with smoke, and women were almost exclusively working in clerical pools in the inner office in sort of bullpens, if you will, and the men were in outer offices where all the windows were and the nice cushy chairs and everything, and what that really translated to is that men had, in my view, in my role at the time when I started working, roles of influence.  Men had higher pay, and women were in support roles, and that's kind of how it looked when I started. 

I think it's important when we think about DEI is to just sort of recognize that DEI has its history, at least in the U.S., rooted in the ‘60s with things like equal pay and the Equal Pay Act and Civil Rights Act and this notion of affirmative action.  Change has definitely happened, and I think what you'll hear today and I think all the folks on the panel think is that we still have lots of work to do ahead of us.  

DEI has morphed in my career from dialogue around quotas, people feeling uncomfortable with the conversation, from a focus of we'll fix this by hiring.  So Talent Acquisition can solve all the DEI problems, companies not sharing data about DEI transparently, and that's really changed today here in June of 2023 where companies have acknowledged that their workforce mirror the buyers, and diversity in thought and approach is actually good for business.  I will say this felt, when there was this acknowledgement in the early 2000s in the company I was working at, that diversity or DEI or I&D or however it was being called at the time was good for business.  It felt like a really huge light bulb moment, like a very important shift in the dialogue change, and this became a bigger, more important agenda item on the C suite agenda.


Thanks, Katherine.  Good day, everyone.  Rajiv Thadani.  I’m a partner in our Silicon Valley office and have been with KPMG for all of 22 years, all in Silicon Valley.  I started my career in India and moved to the U.S. to Silicon Valley directly, got lucky there right after having graduated in India, completed my accountancy degree and then worked in India for about six years and then moved to the U.S.  The initial plan was to be here for two years and then head back home, knowing that I would have some cultural and other challenges working in the US.  But having been here for 22 years, I'm glad I made the move, and I'm glad I'm with KPMG and in Silicon Valley, two different data points where I think diversity has always been enabled to ensure everyone can be successful.  

The question as part of our introduction was how has DE&I changed over the course of our career.  Obviously I have a slightly different datapoint from having worked and grown up in India to then having transitioned to the U.S.  I always felt it was a welcoming environment and probably had to do with the organization as well as the part of the country I was in even though I think that's not true anymore.  I think just about every part of the U.S. is pretty welcoming, but I think where I've seen a pretty radical change has been the various focus areas we have within our respective organizations as well as the various different (Inaudible) organizations that have been enabled over the last 22 years that I've been in the U.S. where it doesn't matter what background you come from.  There is a thinktank or a group that's available to drive the agenda to help address some of the concerns and challenges that people from a diverse background face. 

So to me, that's a huge change that I've seen.  I've been involved in some of those organizations.  I've seen the power of what they've been able to do and continue to do not just for people that are at the entry level but even for people that are at fairly senior levels.  So, for me that's been a big change in kind of the focus that we've had on DE&I.


Great. Thank you all for sharing.  We clearly have a number of different backgrounds here which I think will lead to some great different perspectives around DEI in Global Mobility as a whole.  Katherine, from your perspective, why is diversity so important in a global mobility program in today's day and age?


When we look at diversity or DEI in Global Mobility, where I would start is really at a company level view.  So, according to a survey that we at KPMG did in 2022, 71 percent of U.S. companies had implemented DEI-related actions, and I think it's almost stating the obvious that DEI is on the C suite agenda now, and that survey reflects that.  DEI is on the CHRO agenda and the HR agenda, and DEI is often led by HR with in many cases the chief diversity officer reporting into the CHRO if not the CEO.  

So, when you break that down a little more within the HR organization, each function has a DEI role to play.  For example, like in Talent & Rewards, they look at things like pay parity.  Benefits is building plans and offerings with inclusion in mind.  Talent Management, HR business partners, they're looking at succession planning with a DEI Lens.  Talent Acquisition hires with DEI in mind and does things like ensuring that there's a diverse candidate slate for each requisition.  So DEI is important to Mobility for the same reason it's important for HR and the rest of the company because it supports the company's culture and values, and it's good for business.


And Katherine, I think one of the things just adding on there is you mentioned the importance of diversity from a company perspective, but I think it's also critical that we talk about the effect on employees and the role Global Mobility plays in helping them make decisions about what's best for them while balancing the organization’s needs.  Diversity, of course, can be such a challenge, because if we look at all of the types of diversity – gender, sexuality, ethnicity and abilities – we have a mix of what I call visible and hidden identities and to create a diverse talent pool that you talked about, you have to create personal relationships with employees so that they're willing to share those identities and their diverse backgrounds.  

So, Global Mobility’s diversity lens is important because it needs to foster a safe space for employees to have candid, personal and also knowledgeable conversations about the impact of mobility on them personally.  For employees, that means Mobility becomes a knowledge resource for them, and that they're working to decide if they are the right fit for a role but also if they are the right fit for a location or if there are alternatives in cases where one is needed.  I like to say that there's a lot of trust that an employee places in an organization and specifically in Mobility when they're making decisions around this because it comes down to, is a decision that is personal going to affect my life but also my career?  

I think the other piece here is around visibility and how vital that is for people to see that there are people like them who are going through global mobility processes and that's really at all stages for talent acquisition forward.  So, it's important that mobility fosters diversity so that people see that individuals like themselves are succeeding in their roles, their careers and in specific locations.


Great. Thank you both. It's very clear that diversity is very important in a global mobility program, but I'd like to circle back to something that Robert just said, and that is around challenges of incorporating diversity into some of these mobility programs.  Rajiv, in your experience, what are some challenges that some programs that you've worked with have faced related to diversity, equity and inclusion?


The challenge that we've always faced is when companies are looking to move a critical business need or a need for a certain leadership role, they've looked at who's the most capable candidate and then said, okay, this is the individual that we're going to try and move from point A to point B.  But I think today there's a little bit of a recognition that not only do we need to make sure that this individual has the right skills to be in the role that we need to fill, but it's also important to recognize other things we need to factor in to ensure that they will be successful in the role that they're going to be going, whether that's their family situation, whether that's their kids’ situation, whether it's a diverse background they come from. 

There's a little bit of that focus that I'm now seeing companies look at because I think just looking at the leadership skills that an individual brings is not enough.  It's also important to factor in the challenges that they may be dealing with, whether you're a single parent, whether you're part of the LGBTQ community.  Whatever that background may be, are you setting them up for success, or are you ignoring that datapoint and just focusing on their skills?  Because then you will set them up for failure.  To me, that's a big challenge, but I'm also seeing companies recognize that and do a better job of addressing those challenges.  

There's a local Bay Area organization that had a conference very recently, and one of the sessions that they ran was on this exact issue.  We looked at six or seven different case studies of folks with different diverse needs moving and were being sent to locations that we're not going to set them up for success, in fact, were going to create more stress for them on the personal side that was then going to impact their professional success.  It was interesting to see that when you read through those – and these were actual cases that were presented – when you read through those cases, it was very obvious that this individual was not going to be successful if they were sent without certain additional benefits being provided to them, support certain location challenges, et cetera.  

It seemed very obvious, but it was also very apparent that sometimes when it's so obvious, we kind of miss that.  Right?  So I think it's important for all of us, whether you're the Mobility leader of a program or whether you're part of that ecosystem that's helping enable the move, to make sure we have that lens on all the time to ensure that we are going to help our clients and our community be successful.


One of the things you brought up there that I think was really important obviously is that we need to fill roles within organizations, and we're looking for really the best candidate, but there are so many different elements that go into selecting the best candidate for that position. 

One of the things that I already alluded to, but I really see as a challenge for Mobility comes back to that idea of the diverse identities and the fact that a number of those are going to be visible, but a number of those are also going to be hidden.  As you're going through the process of selecting the right individual for a role, especially in cases where you have these types of hidden identities, there are certain nuances that need to be assessed and dealt with that may contribute to the success of the assignment overall.  I think that that's one of the largest challenges is making sure that you are having those conversations and that you're creating a place to have those conversations early in the process so that people understand how they're actually going to be affected.

I also think that there's a piece around a real or perceived perception about safety in certain locations and how those locations are going to impact an individual personally.  For example, there are roughly 80 countries that still have anti LGBTQ laws on their books with over half of those actually imposing really severe penalties.  As you really go through the process of looking at those identities, it's important that people take items like this into account.  

Employees certainly need to know that the company is thinking about their duty of care, doing things such as offering alternatives when those are available.  But certainly this also creates a challenge because there has to be a level of empowering employees to make decisions for themselves and their families and feeling that they will not in any way be penalized if they make a decision that's really personal in nature and that there's not a penalty to their professional life.  I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges, is striking that right balance between empowering employees to make those decisions but also make sure that you're filling the right role. 

There's also, I think with a lot of organizations, a lot of fear around some of these decisions.  Where does that duty of care leave off, and where does it become that you are keeping someone from an opportunity because you don't feel that it's safe for them.  Really that empowerment of the employee and having them make the decision helps to, I think, overcome some of that fear because it becomes a decision that's best for the company as well as the individual.

Then the last thing I'll say is more tactically, as you look at diversity within Global Mobility, one of the challenges that you may face of course is increasing costs related to global mobility and international moves.  If I think about this from my community perspective, this becomes things such as looking at different levels of spousal support.  If a spouse is going to be going to a location where, let's say, your marriage is not recognized, that of course could increase immigration fees.  It could mean that a spouse is not able to work in that location.  If you think about it from a safety concern, a spouse may actually not be able to accompany you.  So you have to look at things like increased home leave, for example, or safety around housing for an individual.  

All of these things can contribute to increasing the costs associated with moves but, Rajiv, back to your point, I think one of the things here to really consider is of course that you're finding the right candidate, and in finding the right candid in a lot of cases, this is something that the company wants to take on because they know that they're getting the right talent in the location, and they know that it's more likely that they'll see success out of the move.


Thank you, Robert and Rajiv.  Those were both very insightful answers, and clearly there's still some challenges here with implementing DEI initiatives, although we've already discussed how important they are for businesses and mobility programs as a whole.  So I'd like to ask this question to the group here.  For companies that want to make immediate impact on their global mobility programs, what are some things that they can do today?


If you think about it and just as Rajiv and Robert were sharing, Mobility serves employees.  Everyone has unique lives and individual needs, but there are really three, I think, very tangible things, almost low-hanging fruit, Brandon, that I would say Mobility teams can do now to support DEI within their program.  They're around policy, training, and data, and the first piece – and certainly Robert was alluding to this a minute ago around policy – is thinking about, how do I incorporate inclusion into my policy and inclusion into my benefits and allowances?  So, building the policy with DEI in mind, whether it's for consideration of single parents, caring for elderly parents, daycare differentials, a budget for modifications to housing for persons with disabilities, there are a lot of choices here to drive inclusion within the policy. 

The second I mentioned was around training, and this is just looking at creating training for awareness about different DEI perspectives an employee and their family may encounter in a new location, and there were some allusions to that earlier in the conversation and then data which is very underused at the moment, but it’s to consider the question of, is my mobility workforce today representative of the overall workforce at my company?  Looking at that data, whatever is available to you to compare it to company level data, will tell you if that representation is on track or off track.  Then digging into where there are areas for ensuring where we've got the right representation, where we need it is a vital conversation to have with HR business partners and business leaders.  So those are just some ideas of what a mobility program can consider to account for employee unique needs and embrace DEI right now.


To me, it's important for Mobility leaders to drive engagement with the leaders in their organization, whether it's the CEO, whether it's the chief diversity officer, whoever within their organization is driving the focus on DE&I. It's not just having the engagement, but it's also convincing leadership that Mobility can make an impact.  While generally the feedback is Mobility is such a small subset of the organization, I don't know it can really have an impact, I would actually flip that that Mobility can actually help enable creating those right behaviors.  So, having that engagement and having the belief that Mobility can truly have an impact as companies are going through that journey of moving the needle on that DE&I strategy. 

And finally engaging with allies.  I think it's so important.  I’ve personally seeing this over the course of my career, and I've seen this happen a lot.  It's as important as it is to engage with our DEI leaders.  It's also equally important to engage with the allies because that's other people.  We need their help in driving the agenda on DE&I.  Again, this is not just the right thing to do.  It truly has a positive business impact on us.  It helps us enable the right talent strategy which then in turn has a pretty significant impact on our business results.  So, while it is the right thing to do, it really is also driving a successful business for all of us.


Thanks, Rajiv.  I think that was a great point to end on.  It's very beneficial for both the individual and, as we've seen, for the companies as a whole.  I'm hearing all of you speak about how diversity has changed and improved over the course of your careers.  It certainly does sound like we've come a long way from the smoke-filled executive suites that Katherine mentioned, but it does sound like there is still a lot of room for growth in this space and that companies will continue to evolve in DEI over the years to come.  As we celebrate diversity during June for Pride month, what are some of the wins that you've all seen in your diverse communities, and how do you believe these wins have impacted and will impact the future of the work place?


I'll start with just some data.  There are a lot of wins and so much progress just in the course of my 30-ish year career, and really when I look around, everything is different.  From a gender perspective, just a couple quick data points to share that I like to keep my eye on, and I think are fascinating because the needle is moving, albeit too slowly, but it is moving.  If you look at Fortune 500 CEOs today, a little over ten percent, 52, are female-led companies, female CEOs.  So that's substantial but not nearly enough but progress, and if you look at C suite positions in general – and this is U.S. data – 25 percent of the C suite positions are filled by women.  Excellent number, very strong, good representation.  Not enough, but growing, and board representation is something that's critical in terms of company leadership.  Thirty-one percent women at the Fortune 500.  Good, growing a lot, especially in the last few years.  Not enough. 

When you look at pay parity today, the gender pay gap is absolutely real.  Women are earning 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the gap is much more significant for people of color, but pay parity or equal pay has more traction than ever, more transparency than ever.  That's a lot of progress, and companies actively work.  I see this in companies I work with and have worked for, actively working to close the gap, though it will take time and similarly looking at things like promotional velocity and succession planning and other opportunities because all of those help drive some level of pay parity and representation at the most senior levels.

I was thinking even the MeToo movement has had an impact in companies and on all of us really, and it's gone a long way in shining the light on discriminatory behaviors and achieving equity.  Change takes time, but I definitely see a big difference over the course of my career versus today when I started.  Every one of the metrics I just shared I think paves the way for the future, future leaders, future generations to really learn from what's been done but to break the mold and help move a little faster than we have to drive an environment of inclusion.


I love what you just said around the idea that change takes time, and it's absolutely true.  I think that’s one of the things that is important for us to know, that it is going to continue to change and it's going to continue to morph, but it is going to take years for that to really come to fruition to where we all want it to be.  When I think about wins for my LGBTQ community, the fact that I'm able to sit here, and I am able to express verbally that I am a gay man, that's really built on the shoulders of a lot of people who came before me, the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, from Stonewall to Compton's Cafeteria and continuing to build on the rights that all of those individuals have fought for.  If I think about just what I've seen during my career, we've seen more protections for LGBTQ employees.  Around 20 states currently have legislation around discrimination for LGBTQ employees, and that number continues to grow, but it's certainly something that we need to continue to fight for, to create the equity that Katherine talked about.  I think one of the things that I see is of course that there are more people who are expressing their identities, whether those be hidden or unhidden, and that of course is not only in the LGBTQ community but with diversity overall.  

I think the more visibility that we have for different identities, the more that we're going to see social acceptance, and we're going to continue to see a broadening and accepting of these identities and the unique needs that these identities have.  So, I anticipate that if I look to the future, what I will see is a more inclusive environment, both socially but also in the workplace where people are protected and feel that they can really bring themselves to work every single day.


Thanks, Katherine and Robert, I was wondering.  We've got a few accountants on our podcast, and we haven't shared any numbers.  I'm glad Katherine filled that hole.  But just to build off what Robert said, for all of us being authentic when we come to work is such an important part of who we are, and I know there have been times when I have felt that I can't be my authentic self but, as Robert said, increasingly that doesn't happen as often as it used to, but I felt that there was a big feeling of wanting to fit in and losing my authentic self to now I know I can fit in while being my authentic self.  It was such an important progress we've been able to make. 

The thing I hear because I'm involved in various diversity initiatives within the firm, the common concern, if you will, that I hear from people is that we seem to be doing more for X community, or we seem to be doing more for a certain group, and why is it that my group is not getting the attention as much as this other group is?  The way I feel about that when I hear that is I think we all benefit as a community when the focus is even on one of our communities that you don't (Inaudible).  

If one community benefits from focus of the DEI leadership, of our firm leadership, of a community leadership, it benefits everyone because I think a lot of the challenges we face are same, but they're not completely the same, but when we have that focus, it helps drive the needle up, and I think we all benefit from it.  So to me, that's something that I know is continuing to be a focus area for all of us but will also be something that we will all benefit from.


Great point, Rajiv.  Thank you for closing us out there.  I'd just like to thank all of you, Katherine, Robert and Rajiv for joining me today to discuss this very important topic of diversity, equity and inclusion.  I appreciate you all offering your professional guidance and also a bit about yourselves.  I think it's clear that you all have a lot of experience in this field, and it was nice to get some real-world stories here to go along with all of the information that we shared.  

We hope that you found this session informative and helpful in thinking about how you would like to proactively address some of the challenges within your company and mobility programs.  In future episodes, we'll continue to address top of mind issues of interest to our listeners but, in the meantime, we'd love to hear from you.  If you have any thoughts on today's podcast around diversity, equity and inclusion or any ideas for future episodes, please send us an e-mail at  One final thanks to our audience for listening.  Thank you all.


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