I have an unusual background for a Big Four kid. At the University of Sydney, I did a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (a fancy Arts degree), majoring in American Studies and English, and then rounded that off with an Honours year in American Studies where I wrote a thesis on memes in the 2016 US election. Yes, memes. After that I did a one-year accelerated Master of Management, also at USyd, to round off my CV with a more vocational-friendly qualification.
The Management degree was a natural fit for consulting – problem-solving, understanding people, project management. So, I applied to all the graduate programs – but KPMG seemed like the best fit from the beginning. They were already asking questions about diversity out the gate, and had a really great Pride network that I was keen to get involved in.
I started at KPMG in July 2018 – off-season from the other grads who’d started in February – but I kind of liked that. I got to set my own terms and navigate my own way, and I liked that independence.
Prior to the grad program, I had a handful of jobs, mostly in retail – my two years at Mecca were a particular highlight (hot skincare tip: wear SPF 50 every day). I also did a few internships, notably at the CSIRO with their SciTech innovation accelerator program, which was fascinating.
Around all the studying and working, I somehow found the time to write comedy for the student paper and write/perform in eight comedy shows at university (I’m a performing arts nerd, I know). Nowadays, most of my free time is spent cooking, watching live comedy, thrifting, reading non-fiction, and doing cryptic crosswords.
I originally applied for the Customer, Brand, and Marketing Advisory team, but I ended up interviewing for Operations Advisory because they felt that was a better fit for me (they were right).
I remember that all through the recruitment process there was the emphasis placed on who I was as a person, and what perspective I would be able to bring to the organisation. It wasn’t just about my resume – they were testing to see that I was an engaged, fully realised person with interests and passions that would inform my work.
I spoke about the virtues of diversity and curiosity in my video interview, and I distinctly remember saying something about playing D&D in my face to face interview because (and I really must emphasise this) I am a huge nerd.
But at every point, I felt like KPMG cared about who I was and wanted to ensure that I’d fit in well.
I originally started in the Operations Advisory team in Management Consulting, and ended up working with a lot of education clients – universities, schools, government departments, education non-profits – if it was education, I was there! My favourite project involved me writing a 17,000-word literature review on spatial requirements in schools.
That keen interest in education – as well as my propensity to soak up information and form strong relationships within the firm – led to me being offered the National Education Sector Co-ordinator role at the start of this year as a maternity leave cover.
It’s a national, internal role with the firm, acting as kind of the connective tissue between all the work we do with our education clients – I support proposals, I do financial reporting, I work on strategy, I help guide our marketing plan, I host national meetings, and I post a lot on MS Teams. Essentially, I help our decision-makers understand what’s happening in the education sector and help them map out the future of our work.
So much autonomy, and always something new and different to work on! And because it’s a national role, COVID hasn’t had much of an impact on my working style – most of my colleagues are interstate, so I was on a lot of video calls already!
I just love the education sector, and I’ve loved being able to understand all the work we do at KPMG, not just in the consulting division.
Additionally, I also have a role with Pride@KPMG as one of the geographical leads for NSW and the Sydney lead for the Pride in Women initiative. I am a white, cis, straight-passing bisexual woman – I carry a lot of privilege in the community, and it has been my greatest joy using my platform to uplift marginalised voices and educate others around me.
I have learned so much from my trans and gender non-conforming colleagues, as well as the Rainbow Families of KPMG, and I am eternally grateful to them all for enriching my life. Being a Corporate Gay™ has given me so many opportunities – I’ve facilitated three panels, run some excellent events, and made lifelong friends with the Pride group. It’s strengthened my bonds at work and has imbued my work with so much passion and genuine joy.
A word to the wise
Three pieces of advice you would give to a current university student:
Emma Balfour facilitating KPMG’s Wear It Purple 2020 youth panel from home.