Dr Matthew Egan, a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting, worked at Peat Marwick – now KPMG – in the 1980s. KPMG, a multinational professional services firm has recently made a commitment to diversity, something Matthew says was non-existent there three decades ago. “My experience and that of my colleagues, not only people of diverse sexuality, but colleagues with perceived personal issues, was that this was not something we could bring into the workplace.”
As an out gay man, Matthew wanted to know how much had really changed since then – and why. He wanted to reach behind the marketing spin of Corporate Social Responsibility pledges to find out whether workplace cultures had actually improved and if so, what had caused these businesses to reconsider their approach.
Together with Assistant Professor Barbara Voss from the University of Canberra, Matthew conducted interviews with LGBTI staff and allies at the ‘big four’ professional service firms through 2018 and into 2019. KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, and Ernst and Young had all publicly supported a ‘yes’ vote for marriage equality in 2017 and Matthew and Barbara wanted to explore the impact of such actions.
The research team conducted semi-structured interviews that allowed for wide-ranging and personalised responses by employees. Those responses while sometimes critical, were largely positive. The respondents reported that the impact of an enhanced sense of safety and inclusion led them to feel increasingly comfortable about contributing unique skills, which in turn increased productivity and improved the overall workplace culture.
For the firms, a safe and inclusive workplace has proved beneficial for the bottom line.
“These organisations are seeking to expand their client base. And so there were stories about bringing extra money into the organisations through engaging with more diverse industries and client bases.” Therefore while related changes were appreciated by staff, strong business case arguments were clearly also a primary driver.
This research aligns with Sustainability Development Goal 5: Gender Equality and reflects the Business School's commitment to the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education.