This is a copy of the letter sent to Stacy Lewis and members of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Advisory Council.

 

April 14, 2015

Donna in the Round
 

Dear Ms. Lewis:

I saw your commercial, in which you skillfully shatter glass ceilings wearing a KPMG hat. It’s getting a lot of attention, and I’m very happy to see you working so successfully in your career while also working to help combat unfair discrimination other women might face in their careers.

I understand that your ad is a part of a larger public relations campaign KPMG is using to promote the “Women’s Leadership Summit” that it is hosting in two months. KPMG Global Chairman John Veihmeyer has stated that the purpose of the summit is to “positively impact the number of women in C-­suite positions in corporate America in the years to come.” That’s a very worthy goal, and one I support wholeheartedly.

As a former KPMG employee and a former (amateur) athlete, your ad and your role in it really caught my attention. I realized I should write to you. Whatever KPMG may have told you about how it treats women, I’m confident you didn’t get the whole story. Did KPMG tell you that it is facing a massive gender discrimination case in federal court? Did KPMG tell you that despite its best efforts over the past four years to kill the case, almost 1,300 women – both current and former employees – have joined to take a stand against KPMG’s unfair pay practices?

Did KPMG tell you about me? I, too, am passionate about increasing women’s presence and leadership in corporate America. In fact, when I was at KPMG I dedicated myself to women’s advancement within the firm. I had a dream that I would be one of those women who helped pave the path for women behind me – that I would show that you can be a woman, and a mother, and a successful and important part of the organization. I knew that dreams take real work and planning, so I worked with leadership to start things like People First, an initiative that focused on mentorship for all KPMG professionals as well as networking aimed specifically at women.

I dedicated seventeen years of my career to KPMG, and was recognized by KPMG’s leadership as being the “role model for other professional women” that I had always hoped to be. There was a time when you would have been hard pressed to find someone more enthusiastic about the firm. In some ways, you might even say KPMG was like a family business; my sister and her husband are also both Partners at KPMG.

donna-golf

My sister and me golfing

I always envisioned spending my entire career at KPMG, and I and others used to say I “bled KPMG blue.” I was extremely proud to identify myself as a KPMG professional. But that, like whatever version of the truth KPMG might have told you, is only a part of the story. I had to learn the hard way that my faith in KPMG was misplaced. And, I had to learn it over and over again, because I didn’t want to believe it. My seventeen years of unwavering loyalty, dedication and sacrifice had to be rewarded, right? No, sadly that was not the case.

The problems started when, despite my hard work and consistent results, KPMG slashed my salary by $20,000 while I was on maternity leave. When I attempted to address my unfair pay, my male supervisor dismissed me, commenting that I didn’t need the money because I “had a nice engagement ring.” KPMG couldn’t have been more wrong. My husband and I had just bought a new house, and losing that much salary put a real strain on our family. Even scarier was my belief that – like the stories others had told me – my pregnancy meant that KPMG might fire me any second.

Donna-pregnant

Me pregnant with my first child

Unfortunately, my experience with unfair pay and discriminatory treatment wasn’t isolated to those few dramatic and horrible events. They continued and, in fact, escalated as my family grew. Sadder yet, I wasn’t the only one who KPMG treated this way. KPMG paid me and my female colleagues less than men for the same work. How sure am I of this? Nationwide statistical evidence shows that at KPMG men and women doing the same job, in the same location, for the same amount of time, with the same amount of experience and the same level of education, are paid differently. According to expert analysis, the probability that KPMG’s compensation is gender neutral is less than one in one hundred million.

While I once believed that through hard work and excellent performance, I could rise ­up through the ranks at KPMG, I now know that wasn’t true for me or the thousands of other women like me who ran into a very real glass ceiling at the firm. KPMG knew about my problems with gender discrimination because I told them over and over. I learned that they knew about others’ problems as well, but that they didn’t care enough to do anything. When I sought help from KPMG’s Leadership, a Principal­-in-­Charge of the Ethics and Compliance Department told me “this is three men ganging up on a woman. We’ve had it before.” Another KPMG Partner admitted that the male subordinate had a “problem working with women.” At the end of the day, KPMG failed me, and it continues to fail the women who work for it now.

donna-family

Me and my family at a KPMG event in 2007

I had to come to terms with the fact that KPMG wasn’t the firm I had believed in. For years, I kept on going because I wanted to continue to work towards affecting positive change in the firm for me and others like me. And, like so many working women, my earnings were crucial to my family’s financial well­being. They were also vital to my identity.

I was so proud of working at KPMG, and this career was something I had worked hard for, had sacrificed for. Having to confront KPMG’s repeated betrayals was devastating.

I was so proud of working at KPMG, and this career was something I had worked hard for, had sacrificed for. Having to confront KPMG’s repeated betrayals was devastating. Having that part of my identity stripped away was devastating. I was forced to realize that the reality of KPMG was dramatically darker than the rosy picture it painted in its marketing and recruiting materials.

I was significantly and forever changed by what happened. I used to view myself as the ultimate professional and Super Mom and then, during my last years with KPMG, they made it so I couldn’t see myself as any of those things.

So, how did I get to be a plaintiff in a major lawsuit against KPMG? Well, I believe that I have no choice but to do the right thing, and do it to the best of my ability. The right thing was clear to me; make sure that no other woman experiences the treatment I experienced at KPMG and is ever made to feel as if they are worth any less than any man.

I believe deeply in the same principles that KPMG only pays lip service to and realized I had to do something. I ultimately filed a lawsuit challenging KPMG’s discriminatory treatment of women. I was trained by KPMG to help companies figure out how to comply with various rules and regulations and hold them accountable if they failed to do so. That’s exactly what I am doing; but I’m doing it for KPMG and all the women that work there. I believe we all have an obligation to stand up and do something when the law is being broken. I wanted to teach my children that you do the right thing, even when it’s tough.

donna-kids

Me and my kids

Bringing the lawsuit was the right thing to do. It’s about helping KPMG do better. It’s about helping KPMG become the Firm I always believed it was. I am hopeful that together we can achieve that.

KPMG may have a good spin machine, but 1,300 women together are a force to be reckoned with.

It is scary to take a stand against your employer. Even so, almost 1,300 women have joined me in holding KPMG accountable. Together, we all recognize that pay discrimination is wrong and we are refusing to be silent. KPMG may have a good spin machine, but 1,300 women together are a force to be reckoned with. Our voices and our truths should be heard.

So that is why I’m writing to you, Ms. Lewis, and the other Members of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Advisory Counsel. I want you all to know the reality beneath KPMG’s inspirational marketing.

There are of course good things about KPMG and good things happening there. Unfortunately, the way the company – as a whole – treats women is not one of them. I thank you for the work you are doing on behalf of women’s leadership, but I couldn’t let KPMG use you and your commitment to working women without you also knowing the whole story.

 

Sincerely,
Donna Kassman