KPMG’s Elena Richards on How the Success of a Hybrid Workforce Hinges on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Originally published at Elena Richards is KPMG U.S.’ Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. KPMG ranked No. 16 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


Organizations are reimagining the future of work with the employee experience top-of-mind to best retain and grow talent, and ultimately serve clients.

For us, we believe a hybrid workforce — a blend of fully remote, hybrid, and on-site teams — has the potential to sustain deeper connections among current and potential employees and leaders, creating new and lasting relationships that will deliver a competitive edge. We believe we can deliver an exceptional experience for our people by combining the benefits of flexibility with the ability to connect for meaningful discussion, coaching, brainstorming, and a little fun.

We call it “Flex with Purpose.”

Importantly, thought, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) must inform engagement from the top-down to ensure everyone can thrive. There are also risks for organizations shifting to a hybrid work environment that effective DEI engagement can mitigate.

“The pandemic reshaped employee expectations and preferences, and organizations must see both the opportunity and risks from a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective as they invest in new ways of working,” said KPMG Chief Diversity Officer Elena Richards. “Engaging everyone effectively on DEI will enable a more effective and flexible workforce, delivering on the promise of this new way of working.”

KPMG aims to advance this ongoing discussion on the role of DEI and the future of work through this first in a series of reports: “Hybrid’s success hinges on diversity, equity, and inclusion.” This first paper draws from other research, KPMG’s own experience, and insights from leaders throughout our organization to explore a number of issues, including:

  1. The return to office holds different meanings for different employees. Not everyone will see a return to office equally given the different experiences over the pandemic and attitudes on remote work. Employers should keep in mind that under-represented groups and women were likely to face unique challenges and may have different attitudes about the future of work than their white, cisgender male colleagues.
  2. To rebound from the pandemic, we should recognize that hybrid work works — and can deliver a better experience for many. These past 18+ months have shown that employees do not have to be in-person to be productive. Virtual practices have made some people feel even more connected remote than before while connecting with purpose can effectively create new relationships and facilitate learning and development.
  3. The promise of hybrid for many also comes with risks that may undermine this historic opportunity to reimagine how we work. Many biases against remote workers emerge, such as unequal promotions, pay, etc. Companies must invest in their culture to foster an environment where all employees can thrive.
  4. Leaders should focus on empowering employees, particularly managers, to effectively lead and innovate in a hybrid model. Applying a DEI lens to staffing, meetings, and mental health can create a strong cultural foundation. However, organizations should also think about managers (often facing unique challenges themselves) will hold an out-sized responsibility for fostering an inclusive culture. Empowering them, while engendering empathy from the top-down and bottom-up is essential to ensuring words turn into action.
  5. Building a community that spans remote and on-site works can create connections and support flexibility. Community building includes deepening engagement with Business Resource Groups but also thinking creatively about mentorship to ensure equitable access to coaching.

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