KPMG leaders fight ageism outside the firm

Three KPMG leaders are board members on not-for-profit organisations that fight against age discrimination while the firm has a mandatory retirement age of 58 for partners.

The two partners and executive director sit on the boards of the Diversity Council of Australia, which wants to ensure employer decisions are free from any form of discrimination, and the Benevolent Society, which is running an advocacy campaign called EveryAGE Counts aimed at tackling ageism.

While the DCA said it did not support aged-based retirement clauses “of any kind”, the Benevolent Society referred all questions about KPMG’s mandatory partner retirement age to the firm. Lawyers have warned KPMG’s policy likely breaches age discrimination laws.

Stephen Barrow-Yu, a KPMG executive director in People & Change, sits on the Diversity Council of Australia’s board and also on its HR & Nominations Committee.

In addition, Andrew Yates, KPMG’s national managing partner of Audit, Assurance & Risk Consulting, and Robert Warren, the firm’s partner in Charge of Risk Strategy & Technology, are directors on the board of the Benevolent Society.

Rival firm EY removed its controversial retirement age requirement for partners at the start of July, while Deloitte is facing a landmark Federal Court action challenging the legality of a similar policy.

KPMG announced its board would review the retirement clause at the end of August, after repeatedly defending it, and will then have a partner vote on its retention.

There is no suggestion that Mr Barrow-Yu, Mr Yates or Mr Warren were involved in implementing the retirement clause or support it.

Fighting ageism

A 2019 publication by the Diversity Council of Australia about “debunking myths around ageing and work” noted “it should not be assumed that people have a given quality just because they are older or younger. Workplace policies should instead be built on a foundation of age neutrality.”

A DCA spokeswoman said the organisation welcomed KPMG’s review of its retirement provisions, but reinforced it did not support aged-based retirement clauses “of any kind”.

“Diversity Council Australia encourages its members to create diverse and inclusive workplaces for people of all ages and backgrounds,” she said.

“While we don’t have any regulatory oversight of our members, we do advise them to look at our research and resources to understand how to best attract, engage, and retain workers of all ages.”

Meanwhile, The Benevolent Society is currently supporting and funding an advocacy campaign called EveryAGE Counts, which is aimed at tackling ageism against older Australians.

Chairman of the Benevolent Society and Austrade acting CEO Tim Beresford said both men did “a great job” on the board.

“They’re on the board as individuals. What KPMG chooses to do is KPMG’s position,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the society declined to comment on KPMG’s retirement policy. she said Mr Yates and Mr Warren “dedicate[d] their time voluntarily to achieving our organisation’s vision of a just society where all Australians can live their best life” and that they provided advice “independently of their roles at KPMG.”

The three KPMG leaders declined to comment, while a spokeswoman for the firm said that it continued to review its retirement clause.

“KPMG Australia last month announced a review of its voluntary retirement provisions in its partnership agreement, including its reference to age, to best reflect our people’s and community expectations. The review is continuing. Any changes will require a vote of support from partners,” a spokeswoman said.

Workplace advice

The retirement clause might also compromises the quality of the firm’s work, according to Gary Martin, CEO of the Australian Institute of Management WA.

Professor Martin warned that the firm’s “primitive” retirement age likely damaged the quality of KPMG’s work, as experienced partners were pushed out.

“There’s a school of thought that suggest that many are at their career peak in their fifties and sixties so forcing people to exit does not make good business sense,” he said.

“For a company that appears to pride itself on having the depth of experience to deliver quality professional services – forced retirement seems to throw a chunk of that expertise ‘out the door’ [at KPMG].”

Professor Martin also said that a formal review of a clause that was unlawful on face value seemed “unnecessarily bureaucratic”.

“For most businesses, any breach of the law, particularly serious breaches or those which might be perceived as unjust, would normally be remedied as a matter of urgency.”

‘Breathtaking hypocrisy’

Chief Advocate of National Seniors Ian Henschke said the firm’s “hypocrisy is breathtaking” given that it offers research into strengthening protections in aged care for older Australians, yet many of the issues around aged care are linked to ageism.

“I suggest they put in practice their mission statement on their website, that ‘we never stop learning and improving’, and … learn that ageism is unacceptable and improve their policy.”

He noted that the biggest cohort of unemployed Australians was those over 55 years old.

Mr Henschke called on state and federal governments to stop granting KPMG lucrative public contracts until they removed the clause.

Expert advice for getting ahead in the new world of work left by COVID-19

Sign up to our weekly newsletter.

Sign Up Now

Edmund Tadros is an award-winning journalist who leads our coverage of the professional services sector. He is based in our Sydney newsroom. Connect with Edmund on Twitter. Email Edmund at ed.tadros@afr.com

Introducing your Newsfeed

Follow the topics, people and companies that matter to you.

Find out more

Read More

Latest In Professional services

Read More

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here