Growing Up in a ‘Big Tent’
Named one of the 50 most powerful Latinas of 2017, Miriam Hernandez-Kakol’s story begins with her hard-working mother moving her family from Mexico to Kansas City, Missouri, for a better life. She worked three jobs, including as a hotel maid, where people from all kinds of places and backgrounds became Miriam and her sister’s extended whanau. She describes her home and upbringing as ‘a big tent’ for people from all walks of life.
Her mother, Miriam says, has been her inspiration in life. This morning she received a phone call that her mother, now 92, is unwell. Miriam hadn’t intended for her talk this morning, a US Perspective on Diversity and Inclusion at the Auckland KPMG office, to be a tearjerker. But Miriam is a natural story teller, and proves the power of stories to capture hearts and change minds.
Wearing Many Hats
Today Miriam has more titles than most people could remember, let alone perform. A KPMG Partner for over a decade, she also leads the firm’s Global Customer and Operations practice and is the Lead Partner for the world’s largest telco. Aside from her numerous official roles, she is a regular spokesperson at conferences and in the media for increased diversity and inclusion, and works on KPMG’s Women’s Advisory Board.
Raising Others Up
A thread weaves throughout Miriam’s stories this morning; one of empowering others, of raising people up. Two women who joined the Partnership in October 2017 are colleagues that Miriam has coached and empowered since they first joined the firm. In a recent example, when a younger colleague approached her with a concern around a senior manager’s behaviour, Miriam gave her the courage to call the whistleblowing hotline.
Supporting Other Women
At Hawaii Business magazine’s Wāhine Forum recently, Miriam quoted the first female US secretary of state Madeleine Albright when she said ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.’ Miriam herself is the antithesis of this behaviour.
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is another quote Miriam lives by. Her inspirational mother has been her own guiding star, with Miriam shining bright for women, Latinx and others to aspire to.
Overcoming Her Own Bias
After unconscious bias training, Miriam had an a-ha moment. Her bias, she realised, was against people who didn’t appear to be working as hard as her. Who didn’t put in the same hours or send emails at 2am. Now she makes a conscious effort to fight this preconception, measuring people on their outcomes rather than their hours. And if she does happen to be up at 2am writing emails, she makes sure to delay sending them until the next morning.
Consciously challenging your own mindset is important to Miriam. She counsels to hire people who are different to you, who will push back and challenge you, even if they are junior.
Breaking Through the Bubble
At the close of the morning’s session, Miriam is asked how we can break through the bubble of people who are already supportive of more inclusive cultures to reach those who may not have thought about it before. Her advice is to be focused in your approach, rather than doing a little everywhere. Seed company boards with those who are passionate about diversity and inclusion. Work with schools to offer a role model to young people. Ensure that you talk about the work you are doing, with colleagues and clients.
Not Slowing Down
Now a grandmother to four children, Miriam’s husband occasionally asks her if she might start slowing down any time soon. But for Miriam, creating more inclusive workplaces is a personal mission, one that she needs to see through to the end. It looks like her husband has a little longer to wait for that peaceful retirement.
Global Women would like to thank our Support Partner KPMG for hosting this session. Global Women partners are invited to inspiring events just like this one throughout the year, giving staff at these organisations the latest insights and an opportunity to build connections with the Global Women network. Find out more about our partners and how to become a partner organisation here.