The four-day program introduced students to an array of DEI initiatives at KPMG.
Mason McDonald, a rising sophomore studying accounting at the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, attended KMPG's Rise Leadership Institute on July 13. The four-day program was held at KMPG's Lakehouse facility in Orlando, Florida and was tailored to high-performing first-year or sophomore accounting, finance, engineering, or IT students.
What sets Rise apart from other student-focused programs is its focus on inviting students from marginalized communities, including race, disability, and sexual identity or are first-generation students.
“It was cool to see [KPMG] have a focus on celebrating everybody,” said McDonald.
For McDonald, it was noteworthy to see KPMG, one of accounting's Big Four firms, so focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
When initially reading about Rise, McDonald noticed familiar language about DEI talking points. In some ways, the language seemed pretty boilerplate, talking about the importance of different perspectives and identities.
“It's different reading about those initiatives and seeing them in action,” said McDonald. “[KPMG] is clearly investing and recruiting in people to make the change they talk about. Actually seeing their action was important.”
During the program, students attended info sessions about KPMG's DEI initiatives, completed workshops that explored a range of identities and misconceptions, and completed a video project.
The one DEI initiative of KPMG that stood out to McDonald was their business resource groups.
“The business resource groups help you find your own platform and community to lift you up in the company,” said McDonald. “You can find a group of people who work [at KPMG] with similar identities to yours, and they really value that.”
For McDonald, who is a member of the LGBTQ community, talking to new people can be stressful, especially if that person does not identify with any marginalized community, let alone the LGBTQ community. However, much of that stress disappeared at Rise.
“One of my biggest issues talking with new people is that I'm scared of their judgement,” said McDonald. “I just needed to remind myself that everyone at Rise knew that scared feeling in some way and probably had similar experiences to me.”
The fact that everyone at Rise had a marginalized background meant that conversations around DEI topics were not as awkward as they often can be.
“Talking about DEI can make people uncomfortable, but everybody was on board and interested in the topic, so no one was uncomfortable to ask difficult questions,” said McDonald.
In fact, it was not just the student participants having those DEI conversations; KPMG employees were often sharing with the students as well.
“One of the leaders even said they recognized KPMG doesn't look like Rise and that it's an issue they want to address,” said McDonald. “That there was a lot of self-reflection and awareness from KPMG was cool to see.”
Coming out of the Rise program, McDonald has KPMG on his radar as a future employer, but he sees Rise having a bigger impact on him moving forward with school and his eventual career.
“[Rise] helped me realize how much companies focus on DEI initiatives and being inclusive,” said McDonald, “so I want to have more of a focus on that. Even if I work at another firm, I know I can bring those same initiatives and openness into other positions.”