“Creating new innovative ways of working and helping to change mindsets”

Eve, Le Blog Best Practices, Gender Gap, Leadership, Social Impact

An encounter with René Vader, Advisory Leadership at KPMG France.

René Vader

After several years leading different KPMG Advisory practices in Europe, René joined KPMG France in November 2015, to drive growth in Advisory, bringing his international insights gathered during his long career within KPMG.



You worked in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark before coming to France. What are the differences in the way these countries deal with work/life balance and flexibility?  

René Vader : I’ve worked in KPMG in a number of different countries and working habits are not the same everywhere, in particular when it comes to flexibility.

In the last fifteen years, I have been working in countries where flexible working environments were already established so I was surprised to see flexibility only just started here in France.

“in Denmark, it is well-accepted for colleagues to leave at 4pm to pick up their kids”

For example in Denmark, it is well-accepted for colleagues to leave at 4pm to pick up their kids. It is more an output driven culture. In France, there still seems to be more focus on presence, although this is now changing. Within KPMG globally we have the same values but of course there are cultural differences by country. Working habits are very linked to the national, regional and company cultures. That is the great thing about being in a working culture that is both global and local – you can take the best from both.

Is there any good practice that can be applied everywhere?

“flexible working is for everybody”

René Vader : We have been implementing a large flexible working program here in France. It gives our people the opportunity to work from home or elsewhere and is based on trust. Of course, there are a couple of guiding principles such as Responsibility and Communication, but these are things that our teams are already very good at! Given my background, I don’t see any limitations to flexibility. Some people say flexible working is geared towards women but it is for everybody: women and men / senior and junior!

And what about the people you recruit? 

René Vader : KPMG France will hire nearly 2000 people this year with a very large proportion of young talent, 65% are hired as interns or right after graduating.

“we are very aligned with the needs and expectations of the next generation”

To stay attractive as an employer, KPMG has an important role to play in creating new innovative ways of working and helping to change mindsets, so in that sense we are very aligned with the needs and expectations of the next generation.

The younger generation is looking for more flexibility, they are very keen on challenging current ways of doing things, ready to come up with new ideas and happy to use collaborative tools.
Why is gender diversity important to you and what made you realize it?

“creativity and innovation increases when diverse teams work together”

René Vader : First of all, inclusion and diversity in the workplace help us to attract the right talent, to lead in our communities and to develop the right solutions for our clients, both now and in the future. Being with KPMG for nearly thirty years now, I find personally that creativity and innovation increases when diverse teams work together, sharing our multiple points of view and combining our ideas. And of course, making sure that people feel included in the Firm is key for retention

Regarding Gender Diversity, what measures can be taken?

“we are looking for the best talents on the market”

René Vader : I think setting the right KPI’s and having open and honest conversations, both internally and externally is a good start. 

Moreover, leaders need to be focused on the employee experience. In Advisory, we recruit around five hundred people a year and of our total recruits at least 60% are women. We are on track to double our Advisory business in the next five years and so we are looking for the best talents on the market. Therefore we want to offer the best work experience for both women and men.
Can quotas help implement gender diversity?

“quotas brings more women into the management group and makes for a greater diversity in our leadership”

René Vader : Quotas can help communication and are important from that perspective. With quotas, people can actually measure diversity and by highlighting the number of women in leadership it helps to identify role models. However, it is not the full answer. It needs cultural change that takes place step-by-step and that, of course, takes time. I think what is more important than quotas is actively encouraging women to be ambitious and to project themselves into very senior roles. This is what brings more women into the management group and makes for a greater diversity in our leadership. I am happy to say that we now have women in strategic leadership positions, for example the CEO of the KPMG US firm and in our ExCo here in France. This was not the case 5 years ago.

What can be done to break the glass ceiling and encourage women’s ambition?
René Vader : Partners’ and Managers’ awareness about bias is crucial, but it is also very important to convince everyone that we are promoting talent and that women can build very strong careers at KPMG.
We have designed leadership development programs aimed at women, with training, coaching and mentoring on multiple aspects. For instance, we know from experience that men often express their ambition very freely, and often, for say, educational or cultural reasons, women are less assertive about their ambition. Our Programs help them to reflect profoundly on their ambitions and support them in taking concrete steps to build their career.
The firm has also implemented a full range of initiatives to accompany both men and women in parenthood, in order to recognize potentially all employees as parents, and to avoid stereotyping family roles.  
We often talk about the unfinished revolution of gender roles in society. What do you think should be done to finish it?

René Vader : There is no magic answer. On the professional side of things, like in every business if you do not set yourself a target, it is really hard to achieve it!